“Toddler Tax” in Restaurants – Justified or Ridiculous?

"Faith at Waffle House" by hoyasmeg, Flickr

Last weekend, while I was working out, I was watching a show on TV that showcased local restaurants. The restaurant that they were featuring was a Japanese steak house. As I sweated out days’ worth of Thanksgiving desserts, my mouth watered and I decided, then and there, that we would be taking our girls out to a local Japanese steak house for dinner. ;)

Fortunately for my husband, he agreed with his pregnant wife’s whimsical idea/craving. So I made reservations and we were off to get everyone bathed and ready for dinner. This would be my girls’ first Japanese steak house experience and I wanted them to be dressed up for the occasion.

Adorning tutus and ribbons in their hair, we arrived exactly on time and were seated by ourselves at a serving station. A few moments later, a group of three adults joined us at our table, two women and a man. When the waitress asked them “would you like an alcoholic beverage?” I overheard one of the women say, “well, I do now, more than ever” as she eyed my children across the table from her.

The comment annoyed me deeply, but I let it slide.

After a few other rude comments throughout dinner (i.e. play-by-play commentary re: how my kids were eating their food, like passing food back and forth on each others’ plates), I was beginning to self-combust, and was on the verge of losing it with a complete stranger.

Afterall, my kids were on their uber best behavior and hadn’t done anything wrong. Neither one had screamed, made loud noises, and both were sitting in their seats properly throughout the entire cooking show and dinner (which I can honestly say is not normally the case). In my mind, I had already told her what a rude and obnoxious woman she was and that in case she hadn’t noticed, the entire restaurant was full of families with children for dinner at 5:30pm. If children bothered her THAT much, why not eat out a little later or request a table sans kids?

So instead of causing a scene in front of my children that I would surely regret later, we left gracefully, with doggie bags in tow.

Given our experience dining out, I couldn’t help but read this article on Restaurants Charging a Baby Tax when I saw the headline the other day.

Children have been around since the beginning of time. Why do some adults seem to forget that they, themselves, were once children? Where has our societal patience, tolerance and acceptance gone? I often hear adults talking about an “entitlement problem” with the youth in our country. But in this case, I think it’s the other way around. Why do some adults feel that it is their divine right to go out in public and not expect to be anywhere around children?

-Have you had any similar experiences while taking your children out in public?
-What would you have done in this situation?


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18 Responses to ““Toddler Tax” in Restaurants – Justified or Ridiculous?”

  • oh geez, seriously??? I think toddler tax is ridiculous! I mean, as a parent I only take my kids to kid friendly restaurants and those people who don’t want to see kids in restaurants, then go and spend more money in fine dining places. and if there are children I dare you to talk to their parents and school them. see what kind of answers you get.

    people have children, get over it people!!!

    oh I actually tip a LOT when I bring my kids, I tip about 20-30% because of the trouble of cleaning up if there are messes. that should suffice.

    • Cathy, you crack me up! :) We usually tip more when we eat out with the kids, too. We don’t eat out very often. I’m kind of maniacal about what the kids eat (and most restaurants in NoVA don’t have organic food), so when we do eat out, it’s usually a special occasion. In this case I can say that my kids behaved better than the adults. Seriously!!! ;)

  • They were rude. Period. If those ‘adults’ had a problem with it, they should have asked for a different table. Especially since the girls were well behaved. And you were there at 5:30PM, not 9PM. I’m angry too.

    • Thank you for sharing my frustration, Cheryl! It sure makes me feel better knowing that fellow mamas (and friends) were in my corner!

  • Not having read the Baby Tax article I already disagree with it. We hardly ever go out to a restaurant with the kids (or without them for that matter!) because we never know how long it will take for the food to arrive to the table and how long our 2 year old can hold back screams or tantrums. Yes, I know she is screaming. Yes, I know you might be annoyed. No, I don’t really care what you think of my child, as this moment is not the full representation of her little self, thank you very much. Parents have the hardest job on the planet, it should be possible to do it without scrutiny from across the table… Spending what little extra cash we might have on a stressful endeavour such as dinning out with kids is not on my “fun” list. We did have a bad experience once: I was in the hospital with the little one and the grandparents wanted to treat my oldest (4 at the time) to lunch at a Chinese buffet. The hostess/waitress said he had to pay just like the adults “baby no pay, baby no eat” is exactly what she said to my husband. They got up and left.

    If that lady really doesn’t like kids she should go eat at bars or pubs where kids are not allowed ;) A steak house is well within the limits of family dinning, sans baby tax.

    • I know exactly what you mean about the one minute tantrum not representing her completely. My 3 year old has swim lessons on the same day, same time every week. And for whatever reason, she always gives me a hard time changing from her suit back into her clothes after her lesson. Since the dressing rooms are separated from the main area with shower curtains, everyone else can hear the conversations going on behind the curtains. I feel like one of the other parents (of course she is the parent of a very young child who hasn’t yet reached tantrum age) judges me when my daughter starts her “I don’t want to wear pants, I don’t want to wear socks” debacle. It lasts 5-10 mins every week, and once we get into the car she is a different child completely.

      I can’t believe your parents’ experience at the Chinese restaurant! That’s just crazy. I’m curious, but did your husband write a restaurant review online? After an experience like that, I would probably have felt compelled to air my grievances online so that other parents and patrons would know to avoid such a hostile restaurant environment.

  • I’m sorry you had that experience. The up side of your experience may be that the woman may have changed her mind about children after having the opportunity to witness your children’s restaurant behavior. Maybe she now understands that restaurant experiences with children can be positive. I just hope your kiddos didn’t sense her hostile vibes, the thought of that makes me so sad.
    As far as the “toddler tax” – that’s crazy! BUT after some things I’ve seen I can understand where people are coming from. I have seen children wandering around restaurants, refusing to sit and diving under tables, toddlers letting out blood-curdling shrieks every 2 minutes for up to an hour and parents leaving huge messes (spaghetti stuck to the table, draped all over the high chair, in piles on the floor) and walking out of the restaurant without doing any sort of tidying up. It shocks and disgusts me! I think most people are fairly tolerant of an occasional cry from a baby or even a semi-squirmy toddler, but so many parents in our society are so incredibly inconsiderate of others. Yes, I have children, but if I’m dining out I want to enjoy a pleasant meal in a quiet restaurant that doesn’t sound and feel like a zoo. I’m all for being around children – civilized children. And if a child is having trouble being quiet or sitting still it is the parents duty to deal with it, take them out to the car or whatever. Not to expect others to suffer. I’m definitely not a ‘children should be seen and not heard’ believer but I do think my children should not ruin the decorum when they’re out or ruin someone’s dinner out.
    My daughter has always been perfect, never made a peep or any kind of mess at a restaurant. THEN I had my son. He wants to scream if he is not served the second he sits down, he makes a horrendous mess, even with foods you wouldn’t dream would be messy. He just turned one and in the last 6 months, eating out has been extremely rare for us. We mostly only eat out while on vacation, and even then I make sure I have blueberries or some sort of finger food he can dive into as soon as we sit down. If he starts to make a fuss I take him outside until I know he is under control. Before we leave I pick up EVERYTHING off of the floor, pick up any chunks of food from the table and put it neatly on a plate, wipe the table and high chair with a wet wipe if needed. I would be mortified not to do this and to leave without cleaning up. I also leave a larger than usual tip when my son is with us.
    It all comes down to being considerate of others, and that goes for both sides. Parents teaching their children proper public behavior and other adults being courteous to children. A good society is built on mutual respect.

    • I was cracking up when I was reading your reply, Teresa, b/c I can relate to cleaning up the restaurant floor before leaving. I’ve even asked the restaurant for a broom & dustpan so that I could get up every kernel of corn, rice, etc. on the floor. There are times, however, when a tantrum starts at the end of the meal and you would rather just remove your child from the environment asap than further annoy customers with a flailing child – in which case I would leave a HUGE tip and apologize to the waitstaff profusely while exiting the restaurant. That has happened before, too.

      In general, I love to patronize restaurants that informally place families with kids in one area and dining couples/parties without kids in another. As a parent dining with children, I love seeing other children around us and knowing that in case my kids raise their voice, they likely won’t offend other parents in the same situation. And as a parent who rarely gets to eat out with my husband sans kids for date night, I cherish having a (late night) meal without being surrounded by what we’re taking a short break from. :)

  • I don’t mind restaurants charging an extra “cleaning fee” to any table (with or without children) where the floor/chairs are completely a mess. I don’t worry about the table top so much because that is always a mess and is very easy to clean (I worked at a restaurant so this is firsthand knowledge). Sticky, nasty floors are more difficult and often involve bringing out the mop.
    I didn’t read the article, but I’m in full support of restaurants having “no children after . . .” hours of operation. But, rather than charging a children’s tax, why don’t they just up the price of the kids menu? This way, even if some tight-wad family totally stiffs the server at least someone profits from the mess left behind. The higher price would then also be configured into the tip for those who DO tip. Depending on the establishment, the servers are not the ones who clear the table so the tip doesn’t go to those left to clean up the mess anyways.
    It is never polite to discuss the habits of those eating at a shared table (or any other table) in a public setting. Sheesh. Where were those adults raised??

  • Those Japanese steakhouses are excellent for breaking little kids into the concept of restaurant eating. There’s a show, and the communal experience can be (usually is) a good one. You just ran into a rotten apple. Go back SOON and don’t abandon ship this time. Stand your ground. I don’t think restaurants should do ANYTHING to discourage children — other than perhaps not offering a children’s menu/prices after a certain hour. But if someone wants to take their toddlers out to dinner at 9 pm and pay full price for it — God bless ‘em every one. It’s a free country — which is why I’ve had far more experience at being annoyed by adults than children. Now dust yourself off and get back over there — SOON! And you can tell ‘em I SENT YOU, dang it! :)

    • We will go back there again in a couple of weeks, and if I see those three adults again, I’ll tell ‘em Pam sent me! ;) My eldest daughter kept saying, “Mom, we should come here more often!”

  • As a parent, I find the toddler tax very offensive. I think that it’s discriminatory. If you’re going to charge people arbitrarily for bringing their kids to a restaurant, then you should also consider other random taxes, such as a cell-phone tax (taxing customers who actually speak on a phone) or a video-game tax (taxing customers who play games on their phones or other devices). The point is…we’re customers who are already paying the price for food AND service. Kids are people, too. We typically buy meals for my 4-year-old daughter and toddler son. I don’t expect to pay additionally for my son simply b/c he’s a toddler.

    That being said, I know that kids can be a handful in public. I wasn’t always a parent and can still remember those less hectic times. Like Cathryn, I will compensate the wait staff with a larger tip if I feel that my kids made a mess (which I typically clean myself). I just think that it’s wrong to assume that all toddlers will act like animals in public.

    • I totally agree on that cell phone tax. How about a tax on patrons who are being obnoxious or who stink to high-heaven. Then we have the ones that are airing their dirty laundry in public. Tax them.

      The thing is that these people can control their behavior. Children have not developed that control yet. Tax the adults that misbehave, because they know better. Don’t tax the children.

    • I couldn’t agree more with the cell phone tax! A little over a year ago, I took the Acela “quiet” train to NYC for work. A guy stepped on the train, who was talking loudly on his cell phone. He completely disregarded all the signs in the train that said “quiet car – please be quiet!” and even told whomever he was talking to on the phone that he loved his car because it was so quiet! I would have loved to have had the conductor tax him. He disrupted my ability (and I’m sure others’) to concentrate on work, and finally another rider (after ~25 mins) interrupted his phone call to ask him to be quiet.

      Anyhow, I agree that it is wrong to assume that all toddlers will act crazy in public!

  • I remember the time my son wanted to show his appreciation of me and took me out to dinner. He dressed up in his nicest suit, put on a tie, and escorted me to the restaurant when we arrived. He was only 8 years old.

    At the restaurant, he pulled the chair out for me, excused himself when he needed to use the bathroom, said please and thank you to the server, and paid the bill. I got tons of compliments from the staff and patrons on his behavior.

    Yes, not all children are like my son. I don’t expect them to be, but I do expect parents to control their children. Sitting in a restaurant where a child has been screaming for over 20 minutes leads to indigestion. The same if the child is swinging their feet and hitting the baseboard of their booth, making a horrible racket. I expect parents to be the responsible adult that they should be take control of such matters. If they don’t, I bring it up with management.

    My son was not always good. I remember a time when he would not behave and was jumping up and down on the booth seat. I promptly canceled our order, which had not been made yet or I would have paid for it, and left the restaurant. More parents should take clues from their children.

    Unfortunately, many parents no longer feed their children at the dining table. Children may be eating their food while running around the house, jumping on the furniture, playing video games or other games, or doing a number of other activities. Without the discipline of sitting at a dining table, the child should not be expected to demonstrate control in the restaurant. When the parents don’t enforce discipline, all that can be expected is an unruly child.

    Strangers can help the situation. If I saw a child that was being especially good, I would compliment the child, not the parent. If the parent allowed, I would give them a dollar bill as a reward. I never had a parent refuse me giving their child a dollar for their good behavior.

    BTW, I never went to the store without the intention of leaving on a minutes notice if my children acted up. After abruptly leaving three or four times, my children learned to behave themselves, whether in a restaurant, store, amusement park, or other place.

    • I loved the story of your son taking you out to dinner! What a sweet little gentleman! :)

      And I love the fact that you offer well behaved kids a dollar for their good behavior. I certainly would feel very proud if a stranger offered my child a dollar for behaving well. We have been complimented by strangers in restaurants before, but my kids are not always perfect. It depends on many factors – how hungry or tired they are, etc. Sometimes we don’t have any other option but to make it through dinner as gracefully as possible and take them outside if they misbehave (i.e. when we are out to eat with family in another state).

      My husband and I also believe in eating together as a family at the dinner table. We eat together every night for dinner. We usually eat with cloth napkins, and have taught our 2 and ~4 year old how to place them on their laps. When my eldest daughter was 2 1/2, we went to a rehearsal dinner (for a family member) in a swank NYC restaurant. The rehearsal had run late, so my daughter was pumped full of snack-type food, and was hungry for real food, and we were also nearing her bedtime. It had been a long day and she was tired. I’ll never forget when my husband’s Uncle almost flew across the table to grab the dinner knife (not a steak knife) out of my daughter’s hand. We explained to him that we had been teaching her how to use dinner knives at home during dinners, and that she knew how to properly use a knife to spread butter, cut her food, etc. He was amazed that a 2 year old was allowed and knew how to use a dinner knife. After the appetizers were served, we requested food for all of us to go and left the restaurant. Although my daughter was behaving, we could sense that she was at the end of her rope. It was a HUGE bummer to have to leave my husband’s brother’s rehearsal dinner early, but sometimes you need to do what you need to do. :)

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