Megnut

Babies and the tipping point

Last night I had dinner with four adults. One couple and one woman were accompanied by their babies (both well under the age of two). We were at a popular restaurant, but arrived at 6:30 when it was still empty. Over the course of two hours, we ordered appetizers, main courses, and dessert. We also ordered two bottles of wine.

During that time, the server was so-so in his attention to us. Our salad forks were cleared and no new ones were brought with our main dishes. When we asked for some additional items (another fork, salt, a fresh napkin), another server was short with us and exasperatedly asked, "Is there anything else?" After we finished our first bottle of wine, the servers cleared empty wine glasses rather than ask if we wanted more wine. They seemed irritated with us, as if they were trying to get us out the door as quickly as possible.

So, when the bill finally comes, our server puts it on the table and says, "The tip is included for parties of six or more."

I rarely mind when the tip is included for large parties, because I know they can be difficult. But usually the service that accompanies the included tip is well earned. I'm not sure that was the case last night. On top of it, we were a party of five adults. As I don't usually dine with infants, I'm not sure if it's common to include them in the count. But saying we were a party of seven seems like a stretch. Though I suppose we weren't a usually party of five either.

It felt like the server invoked the "six or more" rule because he found our table difficult and wanted to be sure of a large tip. We paid and left, but not before my friend (who herself had worked as a server for many years) left a note on the check saying the food was great but the service was bad.

So what I want to know is, is this common? Do babies count? Was the server in the right to invoke the large-party-tip-included rule? Or should we have protested? Or is this one of those nebulous areas of American tipping custom that make the whole process so frustrating you wish service were just included in the bill?

There are 60 responses

When I waited tables, I never included children unless they had a plate of their own. Although, I can sort of understand if there were thousands of cheerios on the ground after the meal. That was always frustrating, and it would take the buser a lot longer to reset the table. But it doesn't sound as though that was a problem with your friends.

The waiter had probably had a bad night, tips sucked, and he decided to pad his tips. It's not right, but that's probably what happened.

Just my two cents...

As a dad who now often dines with other parents I would say: If the babies were eating and making a mess they count. If they weren't eating and weren't making a mess then they shouldn't count and you should have protested.

The babies only ate a little macaroni (from a mother's mac cheese main course) and had some boob time. No real excess mess to speak of.

We've never had our kids or our friends' kids counted towards a "party of N" minimum. But w'ere also aware of how servers handle our (not always perfectly behaved) kids, even in places that are known as being kid-friendly, and tip accordingly. And we're definitely generous when the kids are unruly, make a mess or are generally disruptive to the staff or other customers...

Michael, makes sense. After we left the restaurant, we were talking about our experience, and we all agreed that we would have probably left a generous tip, even more than they included, had the service been better. It just seemed like we were marked as the annoying baby table from the moment we walked in.

Babies should be counted as half a person. But you'd still be a party of six I guess. Two questions: how nice was the restaurant and how much percent tip were you charged?

It sounds as if service was less than stellar, and maybe less than acceptable, but I wasn't there and can't really say if you should have complained to the manager. Babies count double if they make a mess or create a scene. As has been said, they don't count at all if they're not a factor in the service demands. Obnoxious adults also count double, but they usually under tip. Kids get a bad rap.

It would be interesting to know of any experience at that restaurant, at that time of day, without kids in tow. Most restaurants expect to serve multiple parties at the same table. It sounds as if you are in an area where 6:30 is an early reservation (NYC?). It's not unusual for early tables to get "fast" service, whether they want it or not, to accommodate the next reservation. The kids may, or may, not have been the reason. If they were, it may have been the servers' prejudices more than the babies behavior.

We've been dining more and more with our grandson. We try to choose appropriate places--he's not yet three. I generally find servers more tolerant of him and his behavior than we and his parents are. They often engage him, bring him breadsticks and generally help to socialize him to suit the occasion. They earn their tip and by now he's eating enough food to raise the tab as well.

I didn't look closely at the bill, but I believe the tip was in the 18% range, something like $40-50. This place only takes reservations for large parties, and we did not have one.

I think you clearly have to make a fake reservation for four and say "there will be two infants who aren't eating -- does that count as a reservation for four or six?" Then see how they respond, before you cancel the reservation.

I am a scientist!

I lived in the NY area for a couple of years with children and overall found that the climate is less friendly towards dining with children. At least in Princeton and NYC, there are fewer highchairs, children's menus, etc... There were exceptions; but, unless the restaurant specifically catered to families, they were often a little "put out" or cold towards us.

We now live in the Midwest and there are fewer fancy restaurants and less dining formality in general. Server are much more friendly and likely to accomodate our children regardless of the restaurant.

As to the tipping, I've had several experiences eating with other couples and their children and I've never had a server add the children to the tip. I always tip generously when eating with my kids (even though they're older and cleaner now).

I probably would have paid as you did but would have been unlikely to return with or without children.

P.S. Enjoy your site! Keep up the good work.

When my son was infant/toddler age and was on the messy side I always tipped about 25%. As he got older and tidier I went back to my former method-- 15% for acceptable service and more (or less) depending on the service received.

I will agree that more upscale restaurants look down on parties with babies. I think it's because the behavior of (especially) small children is unpredictable. Some babies scream and create uncomfortable scenes, and some are more well behaved than some adults.

It seems to me that the server in question is "baby intollerant." As someone who has worked in almost every capacity in a restaurant, you are well within your rights as a paying customer to "fire" your server and request another if the first server is mistreating your group, and this server was clearly unacceptable.

Two points I'd like to make here:

First, if the babies didn't each order a dinner, they should not be included in the table "count."

Second, unless the policy of automatic tipping for large parties is stated somewhere on the menu, I believe it is highly inappropriate for a restaurant to do so and I would complain. We recently had this happen and actually gave a slightly higher tip once they removed the "automatic" tip from the bill.

How ridiculous! I think you should have protested and gotten the manage to come over. You had poor service and the waiter shouldn't have gotten away with that.

They were being arses, and you shouldn't feel the need to second-guess. I'd have scribbled out the service charge, tipped appropriately for the adults and service (taking into account the Sippey Child Tolerance Index) and written something to the effect of 'two-year-olds are not covers' on the bill.

As a filthy foreigner, I haven't yet suffered enough moral blackmail to accept the extreme fringes of American tipping culture. But I'll also note that plenty of restaurants that aren't Chuck E. Cheese -- especially those that are family-run -- regard children as a welcome inclusion.

First, let me state that I am always an advocate of strong tipping. However, In this case, I think you should have asked to speak to the manager. The service you received was sub-par, and at the very least the management should have responded to your complaints.

In a situation like this, the service charge is certainly open to negotiation. Were you angry enough to contest the 18% charge down to 15% or less? If a service charge were not included, how much would you have tipped?

Would you ever go back to the restaurant again? That is another way to hit the restaurant where it hurts.

What was the name of the restaurant? I would want to avoid such a place.

I would do what you did and pay the bill but I have to say, I would not go back to that restaurant, unless it was one of my favorites. And if it was a favorite, I would write to the restaurant.

Dining out is tough with kids for everyone. I would bet this server had been burned before. I guess I try to remember to have compassion and realize we're talking a difference of a couple dollars. Let them be the smaller person.

Then again, it is difficult for me to keep this zen state in New York, I'll tell you that!

Shall I be the dirty bird who names names, including my own?

We ate at Freemans, both babies got crabby, and both moms walked the babies out and about. No crying baby was allowed to sit at the table, and almost no food was tossed about (toward the end when I was getting really P.O.'d, I offered Amelie some frisee to toss on the floor. or eat. her call.) Boobs were occasionally whipped out, admittedly, but back to the room.

The food was extraordinary. The service was sh*tty from everyone from the moment we walked in-- from the host (I suspect manager) who asked if we had reserverations, and chided us for not having them since they do take reservations for parties of six or more (we were told they don't take reservations, and we were not six), to the pouty busser who kept adusting her apron to see what would be the most fetching, but wasn't interested in refilling water or providing silverware, (and moreover pointed me to an out-of-service bathroom when I wanted to change amelie... and grinned when I couldn't use it... luckily another server pointed me to the working ones) to the waiter who whipped my wine glass off the table and disappeared rather than offer another bottle, and slapped the dessert menus down after we said we would indeed be interested.

They clearly wanted the table, they clearly didn't want us and I paid a premium for the pleasure. I didn't complain to the manager, because I suspect he was of the same mind. I'm considering writing the owner, but not sure that's more useful than writing up a few reviews.

Amelie is a baby who was welcomed at and ate well at Michel Bras. She has eaten at nice restaraunts and shabby ones, and is allowed to sprinkle the floor with her food only at the pennsula creamery (where I was told to stop picking up her mess, as they had a system to deal with it.) We tip generously, and adjust the tip for mess.

I wrote on the credit card slip, "great food, bad service" with bad underlined, because the waiter cannot hide that from his boss, unlike writing on the check.

Still, great service cannot help bad food, but bad service cannot utterly wipe out the pleasure of good food. Freeman's chef is doing something right. Sea bass is an overused fish, but this one was perfectly cooked, slightly translucent in the center and crisp on top, and the accompanying salad was three star material.

I had one nice moment at the very end-- I ran back in to use the restroom, and as I came out I saw my waiter, who had picked up the check, and was able to hold him steadily in the eye. He blinked first, and turned his head down to his customers, I thought, I hoped, with a touch more humility.

I waited tables off and on for most of my career, either full-time or to supplement other jobs.I would think treatment like this deserves a mention, or better yet, a letter, to the management. The more lazy servers are shown that they're wrong, the more often they get paid for lousy service, it takes away money you could have spent giving a better server a more-deserved tip.

Everyone has a bad night, but lazy servers make me crazy.

The service you describe here is not just rotten, it sounds abusive to me. This strikes me as much worse than Amateur Gourmet's now infamous visit to Le Cirque, where the waiter was sympathetic.

Even if the server was having "a bad day," there is never any call to be short, act exasperated, and take away one's wineglasses. I do think including the tip was larcenous in this case, even though in general I support the idea of an included service charge to protect the staff from patrons who are mean and stingy, or just can't do the math, or come from the Land of No Tips and will resist this one particular manifestation of American hegemony to their dying breath.

Wow. I think this post and the comments create a truly vivid and wonderful piece of social history on New York restaurants in the early 21st century. As interesting as is, I think everyone involved in this story comes off looking bad, from the wretched and mean-spirited restaurant employees to the baby-touting, breast-feeding guests. I guess that's just the way the restaurant world and New York in general is right now! Thanks for the story, and the great blog.

Bruni commented about the poor service in his review today, and I wrote more about it, and named our mystery restaurant, in this post.

And thanks for adding more detail Christina, especially with regard to the service. I've been thinking about how a more attentive server might have mentioned the trout (which I ordered) didn't come with a single side dish. That way I wouldn't have had to order my mashed potatoes after the main courses had arrived (and further irritate Ms. Exasperation).

Also just noticed this bit from Christina's post (I arrived after everyone else had been seated, stupid 6 train!):

"...the host (I suspect manager) who asked if we had reserverations, and chided us for not having them since they do take reservations for parties of six or more..."

This makes me think at least they were consistent and had decided our party was larger than six from our arrival, and it wasn't just at a decision at the end to get a bigger tip.

Hmmmm.. baby-toting and breast-feeding is forbidden? How will babies ever learn how to behave, if not brought into such situations? I always think of MFK's girls, who knew how to behave in a restaurants because they went there when they were very tiny.

The babies were removed whenever they would upset anyone beyond the table. Breast-feeding could be seen by table guests and occasionally the waiter. I could comment on America's weird relationship to the human breast, but I believe that when dining, you shouldn't ruin anyone else's meal, even if you don't agree with their cultural perceptions.

There is a theory that America hates children, and after traveling through France, Holland, Italy and Spain with Amelie, I agree.

As a server for ten years, children were always a caution-- some were amazing examples of grace, others allowed to roam freely and were scary tripping dangers on a Saturday night. But faced with a table of kids or trench, I'd take the kids (and I married a Frenchman, mark you). Children are joyful if not aware of social boundaries, and their misbehaviors I blame on the parents.

San Francisco and New York are cities who hate children, which is a shame. Traveling in Europe, I couldn't help but be affected by parks full of three, four, five generations interacting, as well of restaurants just as varied in age and interest. I can't think of an American restaurant I've dined in where I saw young lovers holding hands, and children climbing on their parents, and a a couple of 80-something friends, drinking their wine slowly and discussing politics. But I can hardly think of many European restaurants where I didn't. Something is broken here, where we hide our elderly and our children, something that marks us a sick society.

Let me eat out with my grandfather who wants everything boiling hot and and won't let anyone touch the bill, and my daughter who has an uncanny passion for salsa and olives. Let me remember that we are born and we die, and eat often and hopefully well in between. And let my little girl taste something better than Appleby's, so her palliate grows up strong and wise.

Alright, I sound like the crabby one, but I'd like to offer another perspective. While I love and appreciate Christina's poetic take on our eating-out situation among generations, there is good reason that people have grown intolerant of kids eating out.

I am heartened to read that your party did remove the baby when she became disruptive. Unfortunately, a majority of people do not. I have been conditioned to bristle when I see a party with young children in a restaurant. When we can, my fiance and I quietly ask to sit in a child-free area. We've had countless meals absolutely ruined by screaming, running, pounding, throwing, spitting, unruly babies and toddlers.

Poorly-behaved, disruptive children do not belong in restaurants--period. Parents can take children out as much as they want, but that doesn't guarantee automatic "restaurant" behavior. I've seen one too many familes check parenting at the door. When their kid yells, throws things, and incessantly beats the table, the parents sit there as if it's cute. When the baby screams, they remain at the table instead of immediately offering comfort and intervention away from the dining area.

I'm not just a parent--I'm a teacher. We rarely took our babies to restaurants, because it was WORK. We were "on point" even more. When baby began to cry, one of us removed him/her immediately. Occasionally, we got our food packed up, and removed ourselves when we saw that the meal just wasn't going to work. As a result of this hard work, our toddlers were and are model diners. They know that misbehavior ends the meal for everyone. We bring things to keep them entertained, so that everyone may partake in peace.

Thanks for the forum, Meg.

Gaia, that is so right on. Our meal at Michel Bras involved every single member of the party carrying Amelie around in the garden... where there is a window into the kitchen... and it was a lunch. I wouldn't dare a dinner. (BTW, it was not my idea and both Philippe and I were scared to death... but his father booked the place, and away we went.)

When Amelie cries complainingly, my husband chides her "Don't be a target baby", or "don't be a walmart baby." That reflects very well the nature of the problem. I don't know what it is, TV causing a loss of ability to take care of our baby, or our broken apart generations that have caused us to be able to lean on and learn from our parents.

But I love food. And my daughter loves food (she was eating salsa too hot for me yesterday. So weird.) And I'll be dammed if I lock her up until she's "capable of behaving"... because she never will be . You can't learn unless you try.

So a few meals will be less than stellar for me. But when you see a four year old dining with her parents, using her knife and fork properly, and eating liver and spinach with joy... well, I saw that a few times when I worked fine dining, and it's my dream.

Again, Meg, thanks for hosting this debate.

What I wonder about is these kids that misbehave in restaurants is, is this how the behave at home? Do they throw things and bang the dinner table? Do they get up and run around? And is that tolerated at home? Or do they not even eat dinner at the table?

It seems like if you have a good family dinner routine, with rules and structure, that going out to dinner shouldn't be a big deal. It should be like at home, only "special." Perhaps the real problem isn't that kids don't know how to eat out, they don't know how to eat at the table period, because they're not being brought up to do so.

It's a shame that there's such a stigma related to kids and dining because I agree with Christina, watching generations eating together and sharing a meal is wonderful.

Meg, haven't you ever watched "Nanny 911"? No dinner routines there, or any behavioral expectations at all, really. ;)

Great debate here, on a timely topic. I live in a "streetcar suburb" outside of Boston (one a fellow Jumbo would recognize) and it's mainly young families and retirees. My hub and I are the only couple on our street without kids, though at the other end of town there are more DINK-y professional types. These two "tribes" clash in the town center, where there are a bunch of great restaurants, coffee places, movie theater, ice cream shop, etc. You see a multigenerational parade on the sidewalks, but each slice has their own dinner haunt. The small, chic Argentine bistro? Don't dare bring your toddler! And the colorful "diner" with comfort food and a full bar? Don't go in there after soccer practice unless you want to watch the Bad Parenting Revue, with moms and dads kibbitzing over bottles of wine while their preteens (at ANOTHER table!) terrorize everyone and spread chocolate cake crumbs on the floor. We're too upscale for an Applebee's, you see, an everyone's too busy to cook dinner.

I feel that the intrusion of media into every aspect of personal and family life (iPods, TV in kids bedrooms, DVD player in the car, cellphones) also has the effect of rendering all public space "private," and people feel less and less inclined to behave in an appropriately "public" way. People feel enclosed in their own bubble even when out among the public, and often the worst offenders are those who are raising their kids with similar disregard for everything but their own gratification.

Heavy stuff...but man, that Freeman's waiter was a jerk either way! :)

I'm sorry, but.... "boob time"??? Breasts were taken out and babies breast-fed in the restaurant? Am I misunderstanding this? How utterly revolting. If it had been my place, I would have asked you to leave. Maybe that's why you got snippy treatment from the waiter. Not everyone is enchanted and delighted by the wholesome mommy-ness of suckling infants at a nice restaurant. Gah.

I suspect that "boob time" with this child was as I normally see it. Probably involved a no-see light blanket and appropriately manageable mommy clothing. Most people don't just whip out the mammaries and slap them on the table. There is clothing and such that makes breast feeding fairly subtle.

I think it's nice to see mothers feeding their children in public. Gives me hope for the future.

::hurls::

I'm sure your dining companions were just as unhappy with the babies being at the table as was the help.

Because dining out has to be the whole package for me- good food and service- I wouldn't return to that restaurant. Just not worth it.

There is a theory that America hates children, and after traveling through France, Holland, Italy and Spain with Amelie, I agree.

Add Ireland to that list. Less so Britain, though you'll find regional variations. I've often wondered if it's a cultural thing across Europe and North America, with some countries and regions upholding 'seen but not heard, and better if not seen' and others (usually Catholic) embracing children in social settings. That might be a horrendous overgeneralisation, but some commenters do seem to think that children should be eating Happy Meals in the car or confined to Chuck E. Cheese, and lord-forbid the Evil Boob of Lunchtime.

Being from across the pond, my family annually decamps to some part of rural Europe, three generations in total. It's not upscale restaurant country, but the local brasseries and such invariably regard children as guests, not pests. Heck, Michel Bras' place is as family enterprise as they come.

Reading through the responses since I wrote mine, it made me think. I don't have children, but when I was little (I'm now 27), we used to eat out regularly. Not frequently, but often enough that I knew how to behave. And when I was very young (under 3 or 4) one of my favorite memories was my grandfather walking with me.

My family understood that I did not need 2 hours to eat, and they would accomodate that. My mother would bring crayons and paper, my grandfather would take me out for walks when I got cranky, and I would be required to behave in a civil manner (although I always tried to go under the table...all those legs

and the murmur from above was facinating...). I was also fed adult portions. I loved lobster, and even at 3 or 4, if we went to a nice restaurant, I was allowed to have it (and I believe I usually ate most of it!). I was not given kid's menu food. In a steakhouse, I was given steak, albeit with ketchup, but I was expected to behave properly, and along with that came the food that was proper for that restaurant. No chicken nuggets, or french fries.

It used to frustrate me so much when I waited tables and children nearly tripped me as they ran around the restaurant (I was carrying heavy trays of hot food!!). It was a family restaurant (but a nice one), but I never thought that mean Playground! I would never have been allowed to do some of the things children do in restaurants now. We would have left. My mother would have thrown me over her hip and carried me out. My father would have paid the bill mid-meal if necessary, but I was not allowed to behave like that. And not surprisingly, I very very rarely did.

But back to your situation, Meg. If the babies were behaving, then the waiter's behavior is just as unacceptable as the children running around the restaurant. He was there to serve you and make your night pleasant. If the babies weren't disrupting other patrons then he is completely in the wrong, and a letter to the manager or owner might not be such a bad idea.

I went to a small restaurant at an airport in Denver with my husband and children a couple years ago. An online magazine touted it as being "casual" but top of the line for entertainment while eating. You could watch the planes take off and land, etc. What fun for the kids!

We went there for breakfast, and they immediately gave us the evil eye. We had three children, seven years old, two and a half years old, and one year old. They didn't have a single high chair in the place. They brought us to the furthest table in the back, although the restaurant was less than half full.

I realized, almost immediately after ordering juice, trying to sit my one year old in a regular adult chair, and glancing at the menu, that this wasn't going to work. I didn't expect a children's menu, but they simply didn't have anything my children would eat! (They're not big into four egg omelets and Eggs Benedict, sorry!)

I quickly went up to the hostess before they could fill our juice order and told her, very apologetically, that we'd changed our minds, and left. They acted insulted, and a bunch of waitresses and the hostess stood whispering and watching as we left.

How do you win in that situation? You don't want us there, you're not prepared to accommodate us, but if we opt to leave and find a more family friendly place, you're even more insulted (and insulting!) Maybe I should have left a fat tip for their doing nothing but make us feel substandard?

I want to say that it's refreshing to hear that there are people who take their children out to dinner in a responsible manner. As a person who would like to someday be a parent, it's something I think about a fair amount.

I also want to add that I believe that it's illegal to ask somebody who is breastfeeding their child to leave for that reason. I don't know if that is a state law or federal, but I know this has come up before.

Now to the original complaint - you should write a letter to the owner. If they do not want to serve people with small children, that should be part of their stated policy. Otherwise, lose the attitude.

I have enjoyed reading this. As a former server I can say that some of my favorite regulars were families with young children, while some of my least favorite regulars were families with young children-- who often treated me as a server who was expected to help them care for their misbehaving children, as their children climbed under tables, distracted other patrons, and ran through busy aisles just barely missing servers with hot plates.

Sadly, my nephews are models of bad behavior in a restaurant setting. Crying, throwing things, banging things, if in a high chair the entire meal is spent in an attempt to escape, and their parents see nothing wrong with this. They do tip well, but not well enough to compensate for some of the madness that I have seen go on.

There at home meal setting lends to this behavior. They are allowed to throw their food to the floor at home, as there is a dog that will clean it up. They are allowed to get up and walk around and run to other rooms between bites, and there is usually a television going for entertainment. They are not accustomed to eating at a table.

I am ashamed of saying this, as these are my siblings that have created this behavior, but I think it is actually how a lot of people experience mealtime. Many people use their dining table to stack bills on or odds and ends, making it impossible to actually serve dinner on it. While they have done excellent with these children in other areas, they have neglected this.

I manage (and am part owner) of a mid-scale seafood restaurant in a touristy area of San Diego. It's a little more laid-back here than NYC. :-) I'm on the floor constantly most evenings, I do lunch walk-throughs several times several times a week, and I've been known to bus and wait tables when we're shorthanded.

How we handle children and infants depends on several factors. Obviously, first and foremost, we know our regulars and we treat them well. They're the reason we've been around for twelve years. People who make a reservation, show up on time, and are well-dressed and well-mannered, will get priority treatment. Whether they have children with them doesn't matter. One of my favorite regular parties is a family with an eight year old and a four year old. Their eight year old loves paté, and our chef personally delivers a tasting plate whenever she comes in.

However... people who make a late dinner reservation for four, show up with the four plus two infants, and are wearing shorts and flip-flops when they arrive are going to get shunted to the bar, sometimes until they give up and leave. Sorry, but we planned a table for four, and you're going to need a table for six. If we're busy (and we usually are) the oversized tables are booked all night. If your baby is in one of those SUV strollers and already squalling, well.... we're fully booked for the rest of the night.

As for baby/child etiquette... if you breastfeed, we have a lovely area set up in the women's lav, complete with a comfy chair and a small table. If you do it at table, the hostess will come over and suggest you go use the area in the lav. CA state law may prohibit us from asking you to leave, but if you ignore our request, your service will be perfunctory or non-existent, your food will be awful, and we won't miss you a bit when you leave and don't come back.

As for children throwing food and other gross misbehavior, does that actually happen often in NYC? If it happened here, you'd be politely but firmly asked to leave immediately. It may very well be that they don't get in the door here; our hostesses are quite good at keeping out children who are not well socialized or not familiar with eating at real restaurants. While we value your business, we value the patronage of our other diners more. Your child's misbehavior impacts the dining experience of many other people.

Someone up-thread suggested writing a letter to the owner. Please do. 99% of the time I'm going to back our staff, but that other 1% I'd like to know about.

Living in San Francisco, I see how it can be construed that it (and NYC) are child-hating cities.

But I think that, unfortunately, it's something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. We have a bunch of 25-35 year old people living here who do NOT think that their lives should have to change once they have kids. They want to go about town as they always have, forgetting that toddlers NEED naps. They NEED to nibble on stuff throughout the day. You simply can't drag a little one all around the city without giving him a chance for a nap, and expect him to be well-behaved.

Additionally, the idea of "family dinners" is a long-lost concept around here. Most parents we know work long hours, and it's all they can do to get a Costco chicken or a simple pasta on the table once they get home. And certainly, they are too exhausted to talk and listen and engage a child after a 10-hour workday. So they choose to let their kids watch TV during dinner, and the poor kids never learn what proper table manners and dinner discussion are.

I think that, by their nature, cities may be more prone to these types of family units, which leads the unchilded to resent the kids who "take over" certain establishments and their parents who don't know how to set boundaries, which makes the parents feel alienated and prejudged, and so on.

I definetly agree that unless the babies ordered plates, or perhaps asked for a wine recomendation they should not be included in the head count. However, if the babies were changed ON THE TABLE (as i recently witnessed in a popular Montreal restaurant). Or if they were transported in those escalade size strollers, causing employees and other guests to be disrupted, they should count as two people.

And if the kids don't eat/don't make a mess they definitely shouldn't have been included in the auto-tip. I have 2 kids under 2 and often eat with other parents with one or two kids and have never had this happen. I would have protested and talked t the management.

As a sidenote, I've found Brooklyn restaurants to generally be more baby/child friendly than the ones Manhattan.

In reading the many comments since my last one, several thoughts have leapt to mind.

I am not sure that asking an infant to dine in a bathroom is appropriate in 2006. You wouldn't serve other patrons food in there, why should a baby be asked to eat in there, even if "eating" is breastmilk? Women tend to be quite modest about breastfeeding in public.

I was reminded of my first "nice" dinner out with my son a little over 21 years ago. We went to an upscale restaurant and were seated in a deep, round corner booth. I was about half-way through my soup the first time he began to whimper. I immediately got up and went to the ladies room, where, as above, there was a comfortable chair and a vanity that easily doubled as a changing table, with proper coverage, of course.

I nursed him until he was again quiet and returned to the table where I was met with cold soup and my grandparents who were now half-way through their salads. I ate a couple more spoonsful of soup and moved onto my awaiting salad. The server slowed our entrees to coincide with my salad's end. Just as our entrees were served, my son again demanded attention. He wasn't even a month old yet so he wasn't very disruptive. Still, I returned to the bathroom because that is just what one did in those days.

When I finally was able to return to the table my entree was cold and my grandparents were finished eating. My grandmother took the baby and walked him around an empty dining room and spoke soothingly to him while I ate my re-heated dinner.

We ordered our desserts to go!

I didn't try another upscale restaurant for about six months and then, it was a breeze. By the time he was two, he could sit at a table and eat with a spoon and fork. I could have (and did) take him anywhere. Other restaurant patrons were usually surprised to see an infant emerging from the bowels of whatever restaurant to which we had been banished. A few actually told me that they hadn't even known there was a baby in the house.

Oh, and he had a particular fondness for lobster, filet mignon, abalone and anything with goat chese or madeira demiglace. 21 years later, not much has changed, except now he prefers the fruit and cheese plate over ice cream for dessert and he can finally have that glass of wine in public that he's always had the option of having at home.

One last thing, I never believed in feeding him all that bland Gerber stuff. He ate real rice congee, not dehydrated rice cereal. I had a tiny little baby food mill and used that to strain whatever we were having. It's important to start training the palate early and to keep those young minds open to new foods.

Interesting discussion. I've dined out across the UK with my now 18 month old with very few problems. We ask if it's ok to come in with the pushchair, or book a table for 'two and a highchair', which gives the restaurant a chance to turn you down up front. I've also asked for a more secluded table or comfier chair to breastfeed without anyone batting an eyelid at me.

She's used to sitting still and eating at home; only difference I find is that restaurant meals take a lot longer than home meals. We either take her away from the table until the food arrives (and between courses) or (increasingly as she gets older) entertain her at the table.

My major complaint now we're starting to order children's meals for her is that it'd be nice if they could not arrive five minutes after the adult meals and on piping hot plates, five minutes before would be so much better. Oh, and if you're cooking lots of veg for adults why do your children's meals always only come with peas?!

I agree with other posters that a breastfeeding area within a toilet area isn't appropriate. I was worried about public breastfeeding when I first had a baby but honestly don't think most people notice that you're doing anymore than cuddling the baby.

Gaia: "Poorly-behaved, disruptive children do not belong in restaurants--period."

As opposed to poorly-behaved doctors, lawyers, accountants, waiters and other supposed adults? Granted, children's behavior can be les predictable than most adults and thus I'm inclined to grant families a little leeway, but only with the understanding that for each child brought into a restaurant, there is at least one adult ready to ruin his, or her, meal, to insure that the rest of the house is not unduely inconvenienced.

Oh babies in restaurants! My favorite hot topic. Sorry to hear you got the "turn and burn" treatment -- sounds like your waiter did, indeed, have a bad night. You probably did the right thing, making a notation on the bill. Not so sure that the manager will either see it or care, sad to say.

Nursing a child is a rather intimate thing, however, and doing so in public makes other people uncomfortable, regardless of how natural it seems to the person doing it. I would think that if I were going to do this with my child, during dinner, I would want to be in a more private venue. A soft chair in a quiet part of the ladies room is NOT the same as having to hunker down in a stall somewhere, with flushing going on on either side of you. It is a nice accomodation for a restaurant to provide.

I understand completely the concept of teaching a child to behave in a restaurant by putting them in that situation. I am one of 5 children who were taken out to eat fairly often, but not until we understood completely what was expected of us. We were not taken to upscale restaurants early on, however, but to child-friendly places where we were told in no uncertain terms that we were to sit quietly and behave properly. The first improper act received "The Look". If it happened a second time, one of my parents would take the offender away from the table for a few minutes, a brief discussion was had, and the child was returned to the table. Nothing more needed to be done. According to my father, all waitstaff were generously gratuitized.

That said, may I please ask ..... where are all the babysitters? Why MUST people who can clearly afford to pay someone to watch the children still take little ones (whose behaviour is still questionable) to places where they are potentially going to disrupt others? How can you enjoy your own (expensive) meal if you have to keep getting up to nurse/change/discipline/clean up after the little darlings?

And before I forget -- Since someone above mentioned the Amateur Gourmet's trip to LeCirque, and the AG has shut off comments regarding that post on his own site (which I read regularly), I will take the liberty to mention HERE that I think his whining is juvenile. He went to a restaurant that he's never been to before, and expected to be treated like a regular? The first thing he does there is point out the owner and tell his parents "watch and see -- we'll get less than celebrity treatment". He is immediately CRUSHED because he is not seated in the celebrity section? Each person has 3 courses, and he PHOTOGRAPHS each dish? That's GOT to be if not disruptive, at least annoying. If I were his mommy and daddy I wouldn't take him anywhere else until he was able to pick up the check himself.

This is a very interesting debate. I have two small children, and I would never take them to a restaurant that was too upscale for their behavior now (5 and 7.) However, we have been to some very nice places, and either my husband or I would take them out of the dining room as necessary, they need to be exposed to certain situations so they are not too foreign. I would absolutely NEVER let them run around a dining room in a restaurant any more than I would let them do it at home. It's actually dangerous for children to do this in a restaurant with the servers carrying large trays of hot food, never mind other people around not used to looking out for children, never mind the fact that it's just plain rude. I'm sure we all know at least one family whose children just run wild and whose company we don't want too much of.
As for the nursing in public, I wonder if the people finding it so disgusting actually have ever nursed, or if you were ever aware of walking by someone who was in a restaurant (because, I hate to tell you, odds are you have!) Most women (myself included) would use a blanket or a big shirt to cover themselves up with. I'm sure there are much more interesting (and much more disgusting) things going on under tables of adults than a simple nursing session.

Why would anyone take babies to a place like Freemans? If I were seated next to a table with one infant—let alone two!—I'd either ask to be seated on the other side of the room, or I'd get up and leave. As well intentioned as they might be, parents NEVER notice how badly behaved their own children are. They're so beat down by screaming tantrums that they rarely notice the other irritating things that babies do simply because they're babies! The escalating whimpers, the smells (!), the way they cause all adults in their presence to adopt a grating cutesy-wootsy way of speaking! Ack! If I go to Two Boots, I know what I'm getting into and I don't bitch about the kids. But if I'm out for a nice ADULT evening, paying grown-up prices, you can bet I'm going to get cranky.

I happen to agree with the above poster. Freemans is frankly for scarlett johansson types and the restaurant felt you were cramping their style and making it too park slope. They didn't need to try to cheat you (that is bad form) but maybe this gives you the signal that babies truly are not welcome there.

I also accept that NYC is not very baby friendly. That is what I liked about it at all ages except the one I'm in now, when I do have a baby.

Also, call me a prude but when my daughter was nursing, she never ate at the table. Yes, a couple times I had to go to the bathroom to do it (sadly, no cushy chair that time... i wish more restrooms had changing tables!), but you know what, I am ok with that. I used to breastfeed in parks, airports, lobbies, etc...but restaurants are more intimate places where other people are trying to have a pleasant experience and can't necessarily leave or move places to do it.

When you are a parent, you can never expect to have a hot uninterrupted meal for the first few years *unless* you are eating without your children. Its unfortunate but mostly true.

I also have to say I don't understand the connection between crying and being a "walmart baby" whatever that is. Um, all babies cry, apparently even babies who go to freemans.

We haven't been to a Walmart in a while (political reasons) though we have been to plenty of Targets, and it simply refers to babies and children who are allowed to winge, whine and scream to be given something they want. I've been to Carrefour and El Corte Ingles, and other megamarts, and honestly, I see (rather hear) these kinds of audio-fits in Target more than anywhere else.

Why do we assume that there will be trouble? I was thinking about it, and that was my biggest problem with Freeman's... they assumed there would be trouble, treated us like trouble, and we then were trouble (no extra tip on top of the 20% they slapped on).

Why do we assume children cannot behave? I'm a new mom, and I will be proved wrong many many times, but if I assume Amelie cannot behave, I know she won't. And right now, she's too little to know it's not okay to throw things on the floor or squeal... unless we teach her. She is at that fine age where she does throw things on the floor just to see you pick them up. So if you go to a nicer restaraunt, you give her one thing at a time to see if she's in eating or throwing mode.

As for babysitters... how can you get a babysitter or eat at home when you are in a strange city? And why would you pass at eating some of the fine things NYC has to offer? Yes, I came to New York to eat at the Times Square Appleby's.

This topic poses some hard questions. I do not believe other people who are paying good money should have their dinners interrupted by bad babies, any more than having a movie interrupted by bad teenagers (as we had last night in a rare baby-free outing.) It's sad that *I* might have my food ruined by having to get up and walk my baby around, but that's the gamble I took knowingly when I made the plan to eat out.

As for breastfeeding. This is probably the murkiest issue-- in my my mind, anyhow. Amelie is at a stage where she will not allow a scarf or anything to hide her unless she's asleep (nor will she allow hats or hoods. Hours of playing the put the hat back on has trained me, not her.) But she is big enough now that she more or less obscures the activity, and I'm fast getting her on and can do things to hide her as needed. Again, i sat with back to the room, facing the wall and dining companions who were okay with breast feeding (Oh my god, could anyone be okay seeing breastfeeding? Sure, let's see, people with family members who have kids, europeans, and GROWNUPS. How juvenile is "hurl" as a comment?).

On the other hand, pre-baby, I had a boss who breastfed during staff meetings. It was a small 12 person company, but it did unerve and upset me (as did being asked to hold the baby... I wasn't very baby friendly before having Amelie.) I didn't want to see my boss's boob. It was a line I didn't care to cross.

And finally... babies who are breastfed the first year of life have fewer illnesses and allergies... there is crazy amounts of data to support this. And babies don't care you are dining out... they won't wait a half hour for food, they will scream for it and screaming is more disruptive than breastfeeding even if I stood on the table to do it.

Finally I changed Amelie in the Freeman's bathroom: make no mistake, there is no changing table much less a comfy chair. Cold tile floors, a sink and a toilet. I wouldn't breastfeed there, nor do anything but the minimum needed. It's not a kids place, and I accept they don't accomodate them and they shouldn't be expected to. But don't expect me to "hide my shame" in there either.

Becoming a mom, no one told me, means people will expect you to give up everything you care about. And most of the time you do it. In the first three months you don't sleep, you often can't use the bathroom when you need to, you can't eat more than a bite or two of food at a time and you can be hungry all the time while fat. Then later, you start to get bits of your life back. You have a meal all the way through, you sleep a night, then another night (then you don't sleep because of teething.) Maybe you start to cook again rather than defrost. Maybe you eat out. If you love food, you dream of that first time you can sit down and really taste beautiful food lovingly prepared. If you are reading Megnut, I assume you know about this. A fine meal is like a virtuouso concert or a well curated permanent collection in a MOMA. You need it in your life, especially when you are down.

I hate big-box stores. I hate them because they destroy both culture and economies. How do I avoid them? I hate chain restaraunts. How do I avoid them? More importantly, how do I destroy them? By going out to real stores, mom and pops, and by dining out at restaraunts that know how to cook food. I had a baby, and more than ever I want to stick to my moral center. I didn't sign up for a SUV and Chevy's. A baby isn't a lump of stinky whining flesh, it's a person who you love and want to raise to be healthy and strong and smart and capable. And you want a world for them to live in that is rich and varied and delicious.

You!
You people who want to lock us up in plasticland with its giant cartons of disposable diapers and plastic food because we choose to have a family, bite me. I'm living in suburbian and I have a costco card now, and that's as far as I can stand slipping. As soon as I can afford it, Amelie is going to Per Se. Maybe she can grow up to be the next MFK Fisher, or maybe at least she can grow up knowing a McDonalds hamburger tastes like cardboard.

I hope this isn't too big a rant Meg... feel free to delete this if it is.

I don't shop at big box stores too often either. But I felt your comment showed a certain lack of sensitivity and non-acknowledgement of your incredible privilege in this world. There are plenty of well behaved children who show up in big box stores. You were basically saying poor people have poorly behaved children, if not in so many words. I think that is incorrect and snobbish.

I have no problem with people taking their kids out wherever they like. But if you get poor service that is the price you pay.

Just as you ask non-parents to think more broadly and understand the situation of new mothers, perhaps you can remember what it is like to not be particularly fond of babies and understand why people don't welcome them at attitude filled places in new york.

I hope you are lucky enough to have a toddler who can handle dining out, but in my experience they are quite rare. And you may come to learn it has nothing to do necessarily with whether their parents are good parents or not or even if they eat together with their kids, though obviously that helps

I have a 10-year-old son, who's been taken out to nice restaurants regularly since he was about a week old. I don't frequent fast food restaurants, so why should he? He's learned to behave, both in restaurants and at the dinner table at home, and has had the opportunity to try all kinds of foods that many of his friends have not. He's never disruptive - I wouldn't stay in a restaurant with him if he were - and believe me, I'd be just as annoyed as anyone else if the table next to me had kids who were throwing their food on the floor and running around.

While the idea of a child-free evening is nice, it's not always possible. Babysitters do not grow on trees, sometimes they're just not available when you need one, and I would not cancel a dinner reservation to sit home just because I couldn't get a babysitter, or one cancelled at the last minute. And when we're travelling, there are usually no babysitters. While there are some restaurants that may be less "appropriate" to bring kids to than others, my only consideration is that there will be something on the menu that he will eat. He's likely far better behaved than many adults I've met...

I have no problem with people taking their kids out wherever they like. But if you get poor service that is the price you pay.

I can't even begin to express how wrong-headed this seems to me, and I don't even have kids. The expectation of good treatment at a restaurant should not depend upon whether one arrives with a child, or for that matter, one's size or color, or number of appendages, or any other "exception" that people can use to justify discrimination.

I'm sorry but the whole notion that you are taking the child to that fancy restaurant for them as well as yourself, so they can learn how to behave, or for whatever other reason is ludicrous. You are taking them there because you want to go there and you can't get a baby sitter, and instead of sacrificing like anybody who wants to be a parent should know that they have to do sometimes, you drag them there. Never mind that they are not going to enjoy or appreciate it and that if they act up it is going to affect other customers abilties to enjoy themselves, as long as you are getting your fancy dinner everything is alright. If you can't get a babysitter and you want to go out take the kid someplace you know is kid friendly, and enjoy the time out with your family. Being a parent means sacrifice, and sometimes you have to sacrifice that fancy meal.

"You people who want to lock us up in plasticland with its giant cartons of disposable diapers and plastic food because we choose to have a family, bite me."

Brava, Christina! More people need to assert themselves as thoughtful, considerate parents in this world, instead of allowing the Plastic Parent myth to stand in for all families. Or the Martyr Parent, which I think is what Frederick is getting at -- "How dare you ingest fine food! You signed on for 18 years of tuna casserole, remember! THINK of the CHILDREN!" ;-)

I think Jen does have a point that there are major class issues bound up in this whole discussion of parenting styles and social expectations -- just take a look at the NYT article today on battles between moms and nannies about feeding kids fancy organic food. But there is room for acknowledgement and more respect on both sides. If sophisticated urbanites were a little more forgiving of the intrusion of the very young, old, or just tragically unhip on their hallowed turf, perhaps the interlopers would learn to play nice and behave appropriately outside the suburban bubble. Otherwise, we're doomed to this defensive, hypocritical backbiting -- something tells me that if Bjork and Matthew Barney and their kids were dining at Freemans there'd be nooooooo problem with the kiddies, am I right?

Emily, I am not getting at being a martyr parent at all I clearly said SOMETIMES you have to sacrifice that fancy meal. It's very simple and all it requires is exercising common sense and good judgement. But before I get into that I need to clear up one thing, a lot of you seem to think family friendly solely means MacDonalds or Chucky Cheese. There are plenty of good neighborhood restaurants in the US, that are family friendly that you can bring your child (and still encourage them to behave themselves, naturally) to and still have an excellent meal. I am not suggesting you should lock yourself in the house until your child is 18. However to expand on an analogy Christina used "A fine meal is like a virtuouso concert or a well curated permanent collection in a MOMA." You would not bring an infant to that virutuoso concert would you? No, because if the baby started crying, even if it was only for the 30 second it took you to get them to your breast, it would be a distraction to the other people trying to enjoy the concert. Well, it is the same in a very fine restaurant, people are ther for the elegant atmosphere as well as the food and a baby crying(even if it's only for 30 seconds) disrupts that atmosphere. Why is it so hard to go to the finer restaurants when you have a babysitter, and the more casual ones when you dont? Why is there no flexibility at all? You have to have exactly what you want when you want it all the time no matter how it affects other people?

"... parents NEVER notice how badly behaved their own children are. They're so beat down by screaming tantrums that they rarely notice the other irritating things that babies do simply because they're babies! The escalating whimpers, the smells (!), the way they cause all adults in their presence to adopt a grating cutesy-wootsy way of speaking! Ack!"

Is there anything else you'd lilke to teach me, such as perhaps, the world is flat. I'm sorry, but either you live in a deprived world, or I live in a very privileged one. I wouldn't say parents always notice when their children behave badly, but they often do and I suspect a certain group that includes serious diners, usually notices such things. I would also say that adults who behave badly, rarely seem to notice they are misbehaving. In that way those who misbehave are all alike whether they are children or adults, but society refers to them as acting like children. I guess the thing is that when you see a child act up, you can assume he, or she, might still have a chance to grow up. Seriously, such categorical stereotypes of how some group of people will always react has no part in a civil grown up discussion. Lose your prejudices and see how individuals behave.

I haven't been to Freemans. It appears to be an inappropriate place to take children. It also appears to be an inappropriate place for people my age. This is useful information. I've made a mental note not to ake my grandson there. It does not justify rants against children in restaurants in general. If diners make a mistake in bringing children there, it shouldn't justify totally inhospitable treatment.

Just to be clear, for those that aren't familiar with Freemans. It is not a fancy restaurant, or fine dining. I don't think anyone here is advocating taking a six month old to Per Se or Daniel. And no one is talking about taking infants to Freemans on a Friday night at 10 PM, when I agree, it's certainly not the right place for that. But on a Monday at 6:30 PM Freemans is like any other tasty, casual, interesting restaurant in NYC. And I don't see why you wouldn't be able to bring small children there. We were pretty much gone by the time the place started to fill up.

Actually, Christina advocated that exact thing: "As soon as I can afford it, Amelie is going to Per Se. Maybe she can grow up to be the next MFK Fisher..." That's kinda what got me going.

I seriously doubt that MFK Fisher's parents took her to any restaurants before she was weaned.

Frederick, I guess I missed that. I thought when people were saying "fancy" they still were referring to Freemans. I guess not.

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