Originally Posted by velochic
I'm sure you know where this is going. This has, I'm sure, been discussed before, but I can't find old threads (heck, I can't find anything here anymore!). I hope to keep this civil.
I'm wondering about dining out and what is expected, not just from the children, but the parents, as well, in different situations. I'm speaking specifically of different types of sit-down restaurants. From the one-step-up-from-fast-food places like Outback Steakhouse and Red Lobster to the fine dining restaurants that have a tasting menu and wine pairings that are $250/person. What should the expectation of manners from children of various ages be in these places? Beyond manners, I think that there is a set of dining etiquette rules that is necessary for these different situations and I wonder what kids are, in general, being taught these days. I'm also thinking of what parents are or are not doing in various situations where parenting *needs* to take place because of disruption.
Had an interesting experience last night and it got me thinking about this again.
Originally Posted by velochic
As I said in the OP, really I'm asking about all ages.
When you talk of "fancy manners" and "loose manners", what does that mean? Manners are manners. You should use them anywhere, IMO. However, different dining environments, I think, require different dining ETIQUETTE and that was kind of what I was thinking about.
I am first wondering why you assume one needs one set of manners for a restaurant such as Outback and another for a nicer, more expensive establishment. Manners are manners as you so thoughtfully say later yet you seem to want to belittle places which are less than $250 per person. One should have the same respect for oneself and for those dining around them at Outback as one does at The French Laundry. The economic bracket of an establishment does not set the tone for manners. One should exhibit good manners no matter where you are.
I think the only thing that would change is one's style of dress and perhaps once's conversation level. Because truly, manners are manners and yes, even at McDonald's I'm going to put my napkin in my lap and hold my fork properly because that is who I am and that is how we are raising our son.
Originally Posted by velochic
Well, I can't imagine that the guy didn't say something. I'm sure he did. I just wasn't so intent on their situation that I know exactly what happened. I do know that he did get the waiter (or busser) to clean off the back of the booth at one point and the parents were aware of what was going on. Remember, this kid was probably 7 or 8 (or perhaps 9), so we're not talking a toddler here. That was what really blew me away. It also made me think more about WHAT is being taught these days.
I realize that we are probably more strict with manners. Although at home we may be more relaxed, manners are never forgotten. Those don't waver. In restaurants, though, another set of rules apply because you are in a social situation and the other diners need to be respected...dining etiquette. We actually have very few things we do as a family for entertainment... dining out is one of them. We (including dd, 9yo) have enjoyed, as a family, what I would call "nice" dining since dd was about 5yo, and we eat out about once a week. This may or may not involve white tablecloth, but isn't what I'd call "fine" dining (the bill may be $100 - $150, but rarely more). We really don't have fine dining of the caliber of The French Laundry or Gramercy Tavern where we live, so any more would be rare. Still, it's occasionally upscale enough that dd needs to use nuances like properly eating bread, using her utensils continental style (less clanging), placing them properly on the plate, not leaning fork and knife on table, spooning her soup away from her, placing her napkin on the seat when excused from the table, etc. The esoteric points, I suppose. I don't expect her to follow those etiquette rules at Outback Steakhouse, but I feel that knowing them has helped her to be more aware at the table, and it has reflected that even in casual places, she is respectful of other diners. And interestingly enough, we do dine in places where she may be the only child, and has done so for a while now. Earlier this summer, we were at an upscale French restaurant, and she was the only child. She had the mussels, and the elderly gentleman at the next table said to her, with a thick accent, "Young lady, it is nice to see a youngster who not only knows HOW to eat mussels, but also so obviously enjoy them." The whole 3 hour meal was thoroughly enjoyable for all of us and I'm grateful that we've spent so much time teaching dd the finer points that allow us to dine in these places. She did enjoy it, and it blanket policies of "no kids" is ridiculous. But... what is a restaurant owner to do? I guess the few ruin it for the masses of kids who are able to conduct themselves properly.
Like, I said, I know we're stricter, but I all too often see, in even family dining places, kids who are disrespectful of other diners. I'm not expecting them to keep their napkins in their lap or use the right utensil... but I expect them to not throw the napkin at me and to not clang the utensil against dad's beer mug... or hang over the back of the booth dripping sauce. At *any* age, I would hope that parents are aware enough to... EVEN IN FAMILY DINING... allow others to have a peaceful meal. Ambient noise is one thing... having a kid hanging over you saying, "Hey, mister, hey mister, hey, mister, hey... oops!!" is another thing altogether. Don't get me wrong, when dd was a toddler, we lived in Germany and ate at the biergarten where she could play on the equipment while snatching bites. But we knew she wasn't ready for a nice restaurant or even a casual family restaurant. We waited until she was ready.... out of respect of others. Why can't this be reciprocated? And how can this be ignored until a kid is 7 or 8 years old?
(Sorry for the rant... trying to kind of sum up my thoughts replying to several posts.)
Actually the proper thing to do is to gently put your napkin to the left of your plate upon leaving the table. If your plate has already been removed you should place it in the center of your eating area. One should gently fold the napkin so as to not have food smears or other undesirable visuals within view of the other diners. In a nicer restaurant it will then be replaced with a clean napkin folded on the back of your chair.
However, what is considered proper is changing with the times and many do now consider it proper to leave the napkin on the chair if you have left the table but plan to return. As always, manners does not mean adhering to a strict list of right and wrong but adapting to the customs around us. So if you do find yourself in an area where it is considered polite to leave the napkin in your chair you should comply with those norms.
To answer some other points in your post, if I walk into The French Laundry and see a child dining I'm first going to wonder who in the world thinks a child is the most appropriate dining companion there, especially considering how difficult reservations are to obtain. Then I'm going to hope I am sitting in a different room because each room is small and the tables are very close together and having a child dining next to you would completely change the feel and mood of the experience. Now, if you secure the private room...eh, maybe. MAYBE. But there still isn't a door on that and I'd be afraid a child would not be able to resist the balcony and switch to an outside voice while out there between courses.
Interestingly enough I did encounter two teenagers (perhaps 13 and 16) dining at Moto once. I must admit I did a double take. They were there for the earliest possible seating and were leaving shortly after we started our meal.
I am going to pause and consider why anyone would bring a child to a three hour meal. I don't understand the reasoning. I also do not understand spending that kind of money on a child's dinner. Sorry, just don't. And I do think that we need to consider the other diners and the overall dining experience when deciding who dines where. Going back to your example, TFL is a very quiet, subdued and romantic restaurant. That is not an experience for a child. It just isn't. And if you are in Yountville, there are so many other, more casual, yet still amazing restaurants, to experience where a child would be more appropriate. The restaurant at the Auberge comes to mind. No, not TFL but very very close and as it is a hotel one would be more open to seeing children there. Plus the dining room is much more open, tables are set farther apart and a child at one is not going to impact every other table's dining experience. And I can guarantee that outside of Keller's private room it is possible to spend just as much there so you still have your $250 a plate bragging rights.
By the way, I'm also quite certain Thomas Keller would shudder (or simply chuckle) at the thought of Gramercy Tavern being on the same caliber as TFL. Just saying...
Originally Posted by velochic
And honestly, if I were at a restaurant and someone pulled out a garbage bag to deal with the mess their child was about to make, I'd be mortified for them (and at our typical haunts, the management would probably throw them out). Sorry, but not only is that crass (to not put too fine a point on it), it also says, "my kid can make the biggest damn mess they want and I'm not going to teach them how to behave in a restaurant, I'm going to just try to control the damage." The fact that it's needed means they're not ready for restaurants and parents need to get a clue. Teach a child manners, and tip well. Heck, even at places like Denny's (if we ate there), I wouldn't do something like that.
Actually, I believe that shows the parent realizes their child has not yet reached a point in their life when they can be neat while eating. Yet, they still want to start exposing them to restaurants. So, for a small, family restaurant or fast food outlet I think coming prepared is completely acceptable. There isn't that much difference from this method and using the stick on place mats for children.
I continue to be confused as to why you view manners as completely situational. Or why you feel manners only extend to the behavior of yourself and your dining party but not to the consideration of what are appropriate and non-appropriate family dining venues. For if manners are truly meant to put others at ease (which, historically they are) then we should consider if bringing a family in for dinner at a restaurant such as The French Laundry or Per Se or Alinea is truly the proper thing to do.