Dining Poll: How Should Parents Handle a Crying Child at a Restaurant?

It’s hard to predict when a child will have a mini-meltdown in public. There are lots of triggers — hunger, being over-tired, teasing from a sibling — but no foolproof remedy. When tears start to fall at a restaurant, how do you think parents should react? Weigh in on today’s poll!


  1. Angel says

    Dining out at a nice restaurant is an adult activity. Children should be left at home. I say we should use the rule of thumb that if an individual cannot afford a meal at the restaurant (whether they are paying or not) then they should not be allowed inside. This way it includes some rowdy punk teenagers from ruining my experience. If the person, them self, can’t or simply does not have respect or consideration for others around him then home should be the only place they eat.

  2. says

    The teaching of a child begins at home, not at the restaurant. I’m so sad to hear Angel’s response about leaving kids at home, though I understand it. I’m an only child and my parents took me everywhere. They didn’t believe in leaving me at home. I was 5 years old when I went on my first cruise and the captain and chef on the ship fell in love with me. Not because I was perfect or even an exceptional child, but because I was taught by my parents that crying was only for sadness or pain and I was blessed to have parents who never purposely inflicted either of those two things upon me. I think that when parents take the time to speak to their children and begin teaching them since birth about how to have manners and be respectful and how to act properly in public, and that tantrums simply are unnecessary and do not entitle them to any sort of
    special treatment, children would be welcomed in restaurants. It’s not the child’s fault if they grow into as Angel says, “rowdy punk teenagers” that fault lies on the parents. I have a three year old Godson who eats at adult restaurants all the time and he is quiet, kind, a good listener and has been taught well the definition of good behavior. Even the wait staff remembers his name and will greet him with a high five. Children, even toddlers are people too. Some will become some of the brightest minds of our generation, it’s up to us to be responsible to train them well. Exceptional parents breed exceptional children.

  3. CherylDC says

    I used to be firmly in the camp of “never bring a small child into a nice restaurant.” As a patron (and former server), I would dread seeing that stroller roll through the door and the ensuing screeching, strolling around tables (whether independently or in parents’ arms), and packets of Cheerios strewn around.

    As a parent of a small child myself now, I can see points on both sides of the argument and I have also learned that even though kids have minds of their own, parents do nonetheless have a lot of say over how a kid is going to behave in a restaurant. We’re not fans of fast food or “family style” restaurants and live in a neighborhood (and building) with many fantastic restaurants steps away. My daughter has been dining in nice places along with us since before she was a year old and sits at the table and eats what we eat. We are courteous diners, both at home and while out, and our daughter is one as well. She knows that she needs to sit at the table when it’s mealtime and babbles/talks to us in the same volume that we use with her.

    Having said that, we also use our heads – we know that she is small and doesn’t have the attention span or patience that we do. When we take her to a restaurant, we go to the earliest seating and while we don’t rush, we also don’t linger. We never give her food before all of our meals come (that seems to be asking for a bored and ready to go kid), we never attempt to dine out with her if for some reason she’s not in her usual good mood, and the couple of times that she has gotten loud or impatient at the table, we remove her immediately to settle down and don’t bring her back until she’s feeling better/quiet/cooperative again.

    It’s not a popular thing to say (within groups of parents of small children, at least), but I think that not all kids are going to be pleasant to have around you in a restaurant because not all parents are going be as careful at making sure they are managed well. It takes a lot of effort to keep a small child happy in a restaurant (especially without being distracting or inconsiderate to surrounding parties). I’m a parent of a small child, but I still don’t want to be disturbed by others (children OR adults – kids aren’t the only annoying diners…) when I’m out. Moms – I know – believe me I do – how hard parenting can be, but don’t look to me for solidarity against the grumblers or glare-ers when your kid starts acting out and you keep them at the table. Yes, we all know how little kids are – but even those of us with little kids in our party don’t want to hear that. (Or be forced to interact with them as you stroll them around to say hello to everyone else with kids at the table – what is up with people doing that these days?)

    For my husband and I it’s worth taking our daughter to restaurants with us because we enjoy time out as a family, and also because at $15+ an hour for babysitters, taking her along sometimes is the only option if we don’t want to make dining out a much more rare treat. We know that she’s not ready for the finest dining rooms yet, but we also don’t feel the need to sequester her in establishments where they serve the kind of food we never eat simply because of her age – there’s a lot more to it than that.

  4. Fran says

    I typically look for restaurants that do NOT feature a children’s menu specifically to avoid this situation, so I find it extra aggravating when there is a child crying, carrying on, or (worst of all) punctuating the low din of the restaurant with a loud screech or yell merely to hear the sounds of their own voices.

    Failing that the parent lacked the foresight to hire a babysitter, or was under some self-deluded notion that their child might actually behave in this situation, I think that the best course of action is for one parent to take the child(ren) outside while the other pays the check and collects the meal to go.

  5. MJsMom says

    If my daughter (3 soon to be 4y/o) acts up in a restaurant, I take her away from the table and go to a lobby or outside. Usually she calms down pretty quickly. I explain to her that we can’t ruin other people’s good time and that she needs to calm down before we can go back in. I also tell her that if it happens again we will leave. Then, the important part: I FOLLOW THROUGH!!! I have left a restaurant mid-meal. Either my husband or I take her out and the other stays to deal with packing up the rest of the food & taking care of the check. After a few mid-meal exits, she got the idea and is now a very well-behaved little girl and we can take her to most any restaurant. I’ve had people tell me how well behaved she is. This is because I don’t tolerate unacceptable behavior (age appropriate of course) while out in public or at home. I make the expectations & consequences clear to her and I follow through. I think that’s a big reason kids misbehave: the parents don’t follow up. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard mom or dad say “if you don’t stop we’ll leave” over & over while the kid throws a fit and they never actually leave. It makes for a very crappy time. Hence, why I actually DO leave. It’s amazing what a little discipline can do.
    To Angel: Yes dining out at a “nice” restaurant can be an adult activity. However, I feel that an older child (2+) can and should be able to go with their parents to a “nice” restaurant, provided the parents are responsible enough to handle it. A child doesn’t know how to have respect or consideration for others, it is the parents’ job to teach their children. How are children supposed to learn how to act when eating out if they’re not allowed to go out? Those of us who are parents don’t always want to go to “kiddie” restaurants. Yes we chose to have children, that doesn’t mean we have to spend the next 10 years eating burgers with a clown or pizza with a mouse. I can’t always get a babysitter because I want to go out to eat at a “nice” restaurant. Yes, we sacrificed a few dinners out because of tantrums, but my daughter learned and now all I have to do is look at her if she starts getting whiny. 🙂 She loves going out to eat now and we can go out as a family and enjoy and know that others can as well.
    Also, going by your rule, children wouldn’t be able to even eat out at McDonald’s, if they can’t afford their own meal. I don’t know about kids where you live but ours don’t start working until their early teen years. My rule: if the restaurant has a children’s menu then my daughter is welcome to eat there. It’s my job to make sure she behaves.

  6. lo says

    All are valid responses. Pretending it’s not a problem or that other diners think it’s ‘cute’ is NOT a valid response.

    And if it’s a very high end/expensive restaurant, it’s simply not child appropriate. Ever.

  7. Michelle says

    I wanted to vote for “They shouldn’t have brought the child to dine out until he’s older and able to enjoy the experience” – except that you need to take out “until he’s older and able to enjoy the experience.”

    It’s not about whether the child is able to enjoy the experience or not, it’s whether or not you have raised a child who can behave in public. And it’s also about being respectful of other diners. Who cares if the child is old enough to enjoy it or not. Go to Chucky Cheese with children. Nice restaurants, as Angel comments, are for adults.

    Risk management: Don’t bring the child to a nice restaurant and you won’t have this issue.

    Mitigation if the parents insist on bringing a child(ren) to a nice restaurant: If a child misbehaves at a restaurant, which includes but is not limited to crying, temper tantrums, running around, being disruptive in any manner, kicking someone else’s chair, talking loudly, and any other irritating behavior, the parent(s) should leave as soon as possible. If there are two adults, one takes the child outside immediately while the other takes care of the bill.

    C’mon – take the kid out to try to lighten his mood with a change of scenery??? This poll is breeder-biased.

  8. Felicia says

    It infuriates me how inconsiderate parents can be! Whether it is in a restaurant or a movie theater, nobody else should be forced to deal with YOUR decision to have a child. Please, get a babysitter or take them to Chuck E Cheese where a kid can be a kid until they are old enough to understand, and exhibit, appropriate behavior.

    Besides, if you MUST try that new restaurant, how about you treat yourselves to a nice evening without the kids, and get some grownup time. It’s likely to be good for your relationship.

  9. dctravel says

    I agree with fab. The first and second part and the first two steps parents should take. We take our kids out to eat a lot. I would never consider taking them to a white table cloth restaurant, but a family friendly or fast casual, I wouldn’t hesitate. Either way, whenever they get fussy, we go for a walk. In the rare event that one of them has a melt-down, we pack up and go, taking our food with us.

  10. The Pilot says

    I just deal with it. For those who don’t like it, well, when you were a kid, what did your parents do with you?

    Kids are kids. They cry. if they start crying, then as a parent I will do #1 and/or #2.

    Pretty conceited thinking the world revolves around you.

    Yes, I don’t like it either.

    I ride in the back of airplanes deadheading. Kids cry. They travel too.

    Complain? for what? Your complaining just makes life miserable for the rest of us.

  11. Poopsie says

    I agree that if the child’s behavior cannot be managed, then he/she should not be in a public restaurant, especially one where there is ambiance and obviously meant for adults rather than the “family style” type of restaurant. I know parents need a break from eating at home, but maybe they can “barter” for a babysitting service with a neighbor or friend if they cannot afford a babysitter. I confess, that when I go out to eat, which is often, I avoid sitting near young children for that very reason….I don’t like to pay good money to have it ruined by the distraction of a crying child.

  12. michele doctor says

    Quiet, well behaved children should be allowed to partake in the dining experience. Afterall, how will they ever learn social etiquette and aquire dining skills if they are not exposed to restaurants ? HOWEVER, loud, misbehaved children should NEVER be allowed. As a restaurant employee, I’ve seen my fair share of obnoxious kids, and believe me you want nothing more than for them to leave. On the other hand, well mannered children are a joy to see.

  13. says

    I have a huge extended family with lots of young children with different personalities. I am a great uncle to most of them. I love going out with them all & am the designated pied piper. I let the parents dine ( they could use a break) * I herd all the kids outside to distract them so that other diners may eat as well. It gives me pleasure & the waiter/waitress always knows to keep my plate warm.

  14. Nicole T says

    We do all of the above in the following order:

    Attempt to comfort the child for a few moments with toys or distractions to see if he’ll settle down.
    Bring the child outside or to a lobby to see if his mood lightens with the change of scenery.
    If all else fails – Ask for their meals to go and quickly pay the check.

    Our rule of thumb is that if the place has boosters or high chairs, then our kid is welcome. We’ve been pleasantly surprised at where this is the case.

    If you don’t take the kids out to a nicer spot now and then, how will they learn to behave it the “real world”? We do our best to train them at home, but practice makes perfect.

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