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A café owner in Washington state got bent out of shape recently when a couple of scone-eating toddlers scattered crumbs all over the floor. The owner confronted the children’s mother and then later posted a shaming commentary – with pictures – on the restaurant’s Facebook page. Uh-oh.

All small children are messy eaters. At home their drips and drops supplement the dog’s diet. But in a public eatery, kids’ messiness adds to the work of waitstaff or, at the very least, interferes with the dining experience of the next customers. The café owner suggested that this mother’s children were no longer welcome to eat there, an outcome that can’t make either the owner or the family happy.

Obviously, this story is much ado about not very much. But the underlying thinking is important. We love our kids. We are used to their ways. But in order to help others love our kids too we have to do what we can to help our children fit in. This means that we can’t just shrug and say, “Kids will be kids.” We have a responsibility to clean up after them.

Instead of waiting to eat out with your children until they’re old enough to eat neatly – which might take a very, very long time! – take these little steps to help the restaurant staff be happy to see your family come in the door.

  1. Ask for (or accept) a table out of the main traffic pattern. Doing this will contain the noise children make and limit their ability to get in other’s way when they get out of their seats. And it will make the mess they make less noticeable to other diners.
  2. Ask for extra napkins right at the start. You know that one napkin won’t be enough for both your child’s chin and his eating area. Be prepared with enough napkins to cover the possibilities.
  3. Ask for (or bring along) a cup with a lid. You know very well that just adding a straw to an ordinary drinking glass doesn’t keep a child from spilling the whole thing. Decant restaurant drinks into a sippy cup from home or ask that kids’ drinks be served in a to-go cup with a lid.
  4. Clean up before you leave. Do what you can to gather up the worst of the mess from under the table and to mop up messes on the tabletop. Clean off your child’s chair if it needs it. Gather used napkins and icky bits onto a plate, so whoever busses your table doesn’t get his fingers all sticky. Yes, people are paid to bus tables. But that doesn’t mean you have no duty to be nice to them. You do.
  5. Tip generously. Even if you “never tip” this is the time to tip very well. If you want to feel welcome the next time you and your kids walk through the door, send the message to the café staff that you appreciate the staff’s extra effort for your family.

Having little kids doesn’t mean you’re doomed to carry-out until they start high school. But restaurant eating, like everything else in life, requires courtesy from both sides. Do your part.

Help people enjoy your children. Make serving them worth the mess they make.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.