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?

60 thoughts on “Babies and the tipping point”

  1. 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…

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. “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?

  5. 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?

  6. “… 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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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