When I first heard the ruckus this week about whether or not to bring babies to a fine restaurant, I thought back to the moment when I was on my hands and knees, trying (rather in vain) to pick up individual grains of rice on the floor of an Asian restaurant.
My then-toddler had flung said rice from his high chair, right around the time his brother began wailing from his car seat on the ground next to me. I remember how my cheeks were flaming hot from embarrassment and how I couldn’t wait to get out of that place and away from the disapproving stares of fellow diners and the restaurant staff.
So I completely understand and identify with the mortification that comes when other diners roll their eyes after they find themselves sitting by you and your young family. One time, at my local Starbucks, I was trying to wrangle my boy who had suddenly stiffened up and refused to wear his coat when I met the eyes of a woman who had been “tsk-tsking” me and I said this, slowly, deliberately and huffily: “Next.Time.Take.A.Picture.”
Mind you, the Chinese restaurant and coffee shop were not high-end places, but I was acutely aware that my children were bothering others around me and I took steps to either leave quickly or try to control them.
Even then, at a time in my life when all I wanted was to get out of the house for a nice dinner, I would never think of bringing my baby to a fine dining establishment.
And by never, I mean NEVER EVER.
Truth be told, it was as much about having a quiet night out with just my husband and me (selfishly, of course) as it was any good intention to ensure peaceful repasts for those around us.
In his tweet about the purported crying baby at his three-Michelin-star Alinea restaurant, Chef Grant Achatz was open and seemingly conflicted about how to handle such situations.'
My take? It’s a shame Achatz even has to respond, because 1) Alinea is not the kind of place I’d ever take a child, much less a fussy or even potentially fussy baby and 2) I don’t understand why the parents wouldn’t just take the baby out of the room for a while and either go home or only come back in when he or she was soothed or sleeping.
Achatz is a parent, too (I know this because I’m actually reading his Life, on the Line autobiography right now – how’s that for serendipitous?) and don’t think he’s as much “ignited an uproar,” as some media outlets have put it, as spoken honestly about how to handle inconsiderate patrons.
My mom passed on some seriously awesome advice before she died way too early of cancer. “There’s a time and a place for everything,” she advised me. She also was keen on reminding me that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.
That sage advice has relevance in this crying-baby ruckus. Just because you have a right to take a crying baby to a three-star restaurant known of its sensory experience, doesn’t mean you should. And it's not intolerant of folks who don’t want their expensive, carefully-prepared meal interfered with (at best) or ruined (at worst) to voice that concern.
Even if your sitter cancels, like what allegedly happened in this circumstance, really, you can try to find someone else to take your reservation, talk to the management (who after all work for a chef who has kids of his own) to see if you can reschedule or simply stay home.
It’s common sense and common courtesy. Which, sadly, don’t seem to be very common anymore.