When should cafes ban badly behaved children?

Jo Seagar is all for ‘family friendly’ cafés, but is appalled that on many occasions it becomes ‘family frenzy’.

When did it become ‘not PC’ to tell a child to ‘be quiet, sit still and behave’ when in a restaurant or café?
In recent months, while having a coffee and catch-up with friends in various cafés, I’ve had to put up with kids running round and crashing into our table, causing coffee to slosh out of the cups, chairs being bumped into me, and I’ve had to struggle to hear my friends speak over the noise of screaming children.
We’ve even had food and paper-napkin missiles thrown across the room at us, and – can you believe it? – one cheeky little ratbag helped herself to my gooey doughnut and licked off the jam and cream (I was on a marketing and research trip, you understand – that’s why I was eating it in the first place).
This behaviour seems to have become acceptable. The doughnut child’s ‘yummy, rather bored looking mummy’ rolled her eyes and said, “Oh, you know how kids are.” No apology, nothing – she didn’t even buy me a replacement doughnut.
I was shocked. I know it’s a badge of honour for an eating establishment to be family-friendly and welcoming to children, but who’s the boss here? When did these kids take over?
When did the meaning of ‘family-friendly’ become ‘any out of control bad behaviour is acceptable and the little darling is always in the right’? Learning manners may be a lengthy process, but I think a limit has been reached and it’s time we took back control.
My adored grandchildren are far from perfect according to Miss Manners’ book of etiquette, but there is a certain standard of behaviour I expect when I take them out to eat in a public place.
I prep them well beforehand – and readily admit there’s often a bribe involved – but if the behaviour standards we’ve discussed are not met, then we are out of there. This is the consequence. I’m big on consequences. Restaurants and cafés are all about eating and drinking in a pleasant, sociable situation. They are not places to hoon around in… we can go to the park for that sort of carry-on.
I think there’s a whole new café culture out there where parents are letting their children run riot. I’m quite speechless when they get up to leave and walk away from an absolute mess – all the sugar sachets ripped open, food and drink spilt on the floor – with not a peep from the parents about cleaning up, and probably no apology or tip to the poor wait staff whose job it is to smile and be ‘child friendly’.
Perhaps some parents think this sort of behaviour is their children being creative and full of hijinks, when, actually, it’s just annoying.
There’s a school of parenting that will do anything to make their offspring happy, engineering their lives to avoid any disappointment or displeasure. These children are showered with praise and constant attention to ensure they have great ‘self-esteem’. But where is this taking them? Perhaps to not a good place.
Going out to a café or restaurant should be a lovely treat. It should be about politely choosing and ordering food, then sitting quietly waiting for it to arrive. And when it does arrive, you use your best manners to eat it.
This is an essential life skill, but it can still be fun and the children can talk and join in the conversation. I love children’s conversation – my little grandsons have firm opinions on absolutely everything and they tell me long, complicated stories, often with sound effects, funny accents and lots of dramatic role play.
Yes, children do get bored having to wait patiently, so a sensible parent or granny will have come prepared with a sticker book, colouring pens, or even an electronic toy.
Being well behaved and polite is not about stifling children’s creativity, it’s not introducing some 18th-century oppressive ideas – it’s just modelling a good, sociable way to behave.
It’s about being a good example to follow.
Words: Jo Seagar
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