It's Not About Bad Kids; It's About Bad Parenting
I've never eaten at Caruso's Restaurant in Mooresville, North Carolina. But you know what? Next time I'm in the area, I'm gonna make a point of stopping in and saying a big “grazie mille, amico” to owner Pasquale Caruso. Why? Because I would be assured of a peaceful, quiet, elegant dining experience in Pasquale's newly “kid free” establishment. That's right, Caruso's has become one of a growing number of upscale eateries to ban children under a certain age. In this case, that age is five.
Oh, there have been angry cries from aggrieved parents. For example: “Absolutely horrible would not be served because I have a 4 year old son who I might add is actually very well behaved he's not perfect by no means but he knows when we go out to a nice family dinner to mind his manners, me or my family will NEVER return to this place! Out of 5 stars I give it a 0.01 pitiful.” Or this one: “such a anti-humanity snob....wouldn't it be nice if the restaurant banned those who are kid haters..”
With their atrocious grammar (“he's not perfect by no means,” “me or my family,” and “a anti-humanity snob” ) and apparent lack of familiarity with punctuation and sentence structure, these people represent a mere smattering of ninny-whiners. In general, reaction to the decision has been overwhelmingly positive. By all accounts, Caruso's has seen what some call a “dramatic” increase in business. “Thank you for taking a stand,” is an oft repeated comment. And Caruso's is hardly standing alone. In recent years, restaurants across the country and around the world have taken what would once have been considered an unthinkable step. Fine or finer dining establishments in Houston, Pittsburgh, Monterey, California, and Alexandria, Virginia, as well as restaurants in Australia, Britain, and Italy, have implemented some form of age restriction.
The reasons behind this movement are simple and perfectly justified: unsupervised or improperly supervised children causing disruptions, creating dangerous situations, and/or doing physical damage to property. One restaurant owner reported $1,500 damage to a wall inflicted by somebody's little darling with a quarter. Waitstaff at other places report near misses or outright collisions with running, screaming, playing children. These workers carry heavy trays full of sharp objects and hot dishes and shouldn't be expected to have to perform balletic gymnastics – often at risk to themselves and other diners – to avoid contact with somebody's brat. And there's the recent tragedy of the 5-year-old child killed in an Atlanta restaurant when he wandered off and got his head caught in machinery that operated the restaurant's revolving floor. Most common, however, are complaints from other diners who should not have to be subjected to tantrums and other disruptive behavior. While not the sole impetus behind Caruso's ban, an incident wherein a little girl had the volume on her iPad cranked up to the max while her parents refused requests to have her turn it down, was kind of the last straw.
“People don’t want to come in and spend money on a nice meal and an evening out when there’s constantly food on the floor, loud electronic devices keeping kids entertained, and small children screaming,” Caruso said. “It was just the right decision for my business.” And it's becoming the right decision for a lot of businesses.
But there's a deeper issue in play here: it's not really about bad kids, it's more about bad parenting.
In Caruso's case, in addition to the child behaving like a spoiled brat, the parents were right up there enabling her bad behavior. The kid was obviously causing a disruption and when asked to correct the situation, the parents refused, clearly believing that it wasn't their problem that everybody else in the place was upset! Go back to the ninny-whiner I referenced earlier; “I have a 4 year old son who I might add is actually very well behaved.” Uh-huh. That's what they all say. The world is full of “well-behaved” children. It's just that some parents' definition of “well-behaved” is quite broad. Even in the case of the Atlanta tragedy, a police spokesman said the little boy was “just doing what kids do.”
I'm sorry, but I disagree. Here I go putting on my “back in my day” hat, but back in my day kids didn't “do” what today's kids do. They didn't behave anywhere near as badly in public as they do now and that's a circumstance I lay squarely at the feet of overindulgent parents. Self-absorbed products of too much privilege themselves, they simply don't see where anything their kids do is wrong or deserving of censure or consequences. So what if little Angelica did $1,500 damage to somebody's property? That's just what kids do, you know. Besides, insurance will cover it. And so what if Billy is screaming at the top of his lungs? Kids will be kids. He's just making a play for attention. He'll get over it. So should you. I don't care that you paid big bucks for your dining experience. So did I and I have every right to experience it on my terms, so suck it up, buttercup.
Remember the brouhaha that swirled around the restaurant owner in Portland, Maine awhile back when she had the temerity to “scream” at a misbehaving child? The little dumpling had been raising holy hell for forty minutes or so while the parents just blithely let it go on. Finally, the owner slammed her hands down on the counter, pointed at the screaming child and shouted, “this needs to stop!” At which point the kid abruptly shut up. And the outraged parents entered the fray, indignantly demanding, “Are you screaming at a child?” To which the frazzled owner replied, “Yes. I am.” And the social media battle was on. All because a stranger had the guts to do what the gutless parents wouldn't.
Screaming, shouting, talking loudly, getting up from the table and wandering around, playing in walkways or under tables, playing with food, throwing it around and making a mess – none of that would have been tolerated by my parents' generation. Us kids would have been snatched up and taken out of the restaurant so quickly it would have left us dizzy. I can state unequivocally that I never misbehaved in a restaurant because I knew better going in. And it's not that my ninety-pound, 4' 9” mother would have beaten the crap out of me. I was just taught better manners at home and I carried them out into the world. I'm proud to say that my two sons, both family men in their thirties now, were frequently praised by restaurant patrons for their deportment as children. I didn't have to flog them to within an inch of their lives. They were simply taught proper public behavior long before they went out in public.
But that's just not the way it is anymore. Today's parents live in a world of their own and are content to let kids live in a similar state. The so-called “adults” plug themselves into Facebook or engage one another in conversation and simply let their kids “be kids,” a sad euphemism for being spoiled, privileged, entitled, overindulged, selfish, thoughtless, hell-spawn brats. And woe betide any foolish enough to take measures to stem the tide of blatant misbehavior. “What gives you the right to interfere with my kids?”
People are tired of it. Comments on the stories about Caruso's and other places that have taken measures to ensure a pleasant atmosphere run probably twenty to one along these lines:
“I am glad to know that there is a restaurant that I can go to where there are no screaming children. Adults need a place to go and eat and just to relax.”
“I have not tried your restaurant but can applaud your choice. Parents refuse to calm their children down when they are loud and obnoxious. So the owner has to do what's best. I will be encouraging others to visit your place.”
“From what I've seen, parents today do NOT contain their kids at restaurants. Leave them home with the sitter and have a date night without screaming, crying and misbehaving kids.”
“I thank the owner for the ban of small children. We enjoy the upscale dining, and appreciate the ability to go to a nice Italian restaurant and dine without screaming / unruly children.”
“Sounds fine to me. There are plenty of restaurants that allow kids. I don't see a problem with having one that doesn't.”
And that last comment strikes at the very heart of the matter: people who drag an unruly, ill-tempered two-year-old into a fine dining restaurant are the same ones who bring such kids into violent, R-rated movies, formal concerts and theatrical events, weddings, funerals, and even church services. These venues are not designed to accommodate children and posses nothing to hold a child's interest. Hence boredom which leads to misbehavior. But clueless parents don't seem to get the idea that forcing such square little pegs into round holes is something they do to suit their own convenience, not the child's. They are hell-bent on seeking life's pleasures and refuse to be incommoded by a tag-along toddler. So rather than find someplace where their kids will feel welcome, someplace where screams and laughter are permitted and encouraged, they abrogate their responsibility and foist it off on the rest of us. Kid-themed eateries may not be a trendy adult's kind of place, but think about it: is a place like Caruso's really a kid's kind of place? I say start kids out with lower expectations and teach them the ropes as they grow. Starting them at the top is unfair to the kids and to everybody around them.
And before anybody accuses me of being out of touch with the modern world, I have grand-kids now, five of them. All but one would not make the age cut at Caruso's. And that's okay because nobody in my family would think of taking them there or to to any place where they are so obviously out of place. They are, I might add, very well behaved. But what do I know? I'm just a kid hating, anti-humanity snob.
I came across a piece by Rhonda Stevens that sort of ties in with what I'm talking about. It's kind of lengthy and I don't want to minimize the content by trying to condense it. It's a perfect treatise on modern parenting and I wish to hell I had written it because it really mirrors my thoughts on the subject. Check out her excellent essay here and when you finish reading it, meet me at Caruso's in Mooresville, NC. We'll discuss it over a nice quiet, kid-free dinner.