I spent a week at a tropical resort earlier this month with the intention of tuning out and not sweating the small stuff. Even people who forensically examine minutiae for a living deserve some time off.
Yet this little getaway turned out to be a veritable bus man's holiday when I witnessed some dubious behaviour associated with children dining out. I've long been a fan of introducing children to the finer points of restaurant etiquette. However, there seem to be parents who share this enthusiasm yet simultaneously lack consideration for the comfort of other diners. Here are three dilemmas I've been pondering.
1. Are separate tables okay?
The first time I saw children being seated at a different table to their parents at dinner was at The Millhouse near Arrowtown maybe around fifteen years ago. I was at a table of three adults when a large party arrived. There were about eight adults and eight children. The adults sat at one table, the children at another.
As luck would have it, the children's table was adjacent to us and right in the middle of the restaurant. Left to their own devices, the children were rowdy. They shouted, scraped chairs and dropped cutlery. The noise levels were enhanced by the banter that was exchanged between the adults and the children. Given the level of interaction, I wondered why they'd separated the generations in the first place.
Just a week ago, I was in a hotel restaurant when a group of diners arrived. The four adults sat at one table while the four children (aged about eight and nine years old) sat at a separate table. No prizes for guessing which table was nearest us. The children all immediately took a chopstick in each hand and started bashing their water glasses. That was one way to ruin the ambiance. Then one of the mothers yelled something along the lines of: "Behave yourselves or I'll send you all outside." I pitied any diner hoping for a romantic or quiet night out.
2. When can children dine unsupervised?
A couple of days later it was my turn to unleash a tableful of children on unwitting diners at the resort's casual restaurant. My thirteen-year-old had met up with a couple of school friends. I suggested the three girls have lunch together (anything to get them out of the pool and into the shade for half an hour).
As far as I know they were well behaved but, since I left them to their own devices I can't be sure. In my defence, they were all teenagers, it was a very laidback eatery and their table was visible from my sun-lounger. (I left a $20 tip by way of apology for being an absent parent.) But the truth is, I don't really know what's the proper age to let unsupervised children order fries and popcorn prawns.
3. Do bottoms and dining tables mix?
Near the end of our holiday we had dinner at the local Hard Rock Café. A large group arrived and a long table was set up perpendicular to our table. The twelve adults sat at the far end. Naturally, the eight children were close to our table. When I say close, the nearest ones would have been no more than 50cm away from me. I honestly wasn't in the least bothered by this.
In the sarong I'd worn all day, with uncombed hair, a mosquito repellent glow and no makeup, I was in no position to judge. I was relaxed. The "Pina Colada" song was playing. Nothing could rattle me. Or so I thought.
Then one of the fathers came along to see what the children wanted to eat. Instead of approaching from the side where there was plenty of room, he decided to wedge himself between their table and our table. Then he bent from the waist and his backside was over our table.
Thinking that this would surely be a short-lived state of affairs, I sat dumbfounded for maybe fifteen seconds before shifting our plate of steamed beans, cauliflower and carrots (which had become less appetising with every second this strange man's checked shorts threatened to make contact with it).
It was perhaps another fifteen seconds before my dining companions noticed what was happening. One of them swiftly shifted our table in the opposite direction. One of them said something like: "Mate, we could do without your arse on our table." No apology ensued but the man bent his knees and the offending posterior disappeared like magic.
As usual, a thoughtless adult - with little awareness of his surroundings and no consideration for other diners - rather than the children themselves, had been the source of the problem.
An unsolicited backside so close to someone else's food is rude, unhygienic and would surely qualify as culturally insensitive in most parts of the world. (Please resist the urge to say that anyone who dines at the Hard Rock and/or eats dinner so early deserves whatever they get. That's just victim blaming.)