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Dining Out with Children

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When I was a waitress, I despised families. Families ranked up there with the worst potential restaurant patrons. Perverts, sleazeballs, meal splitters, meal modifiers, rude people, stalkers and even bad tippers rank above them. Why? Because families are horrible. Messy, demanding, obnoxious and notoriously bad tippers on top of everything else, they are the worst kind of social pariah. Every time you even glance in their general direction, they are clamoring for extra napkins, crackers and straws; insisting on ordering something that isn’t even on the menu; breaking something; spilling their drinks; or hanging from the light fixtures.


Whenever a family would come into the restaurant I worked at, we waitresses would do anything to avoid putting them in our own section. No one wanted to wait on the families. 


As a former waitress with small children of my own, I now feel ashamed when I dine in any restaurant that doesn’t have a play area, an in-house balloon twister, or man dressed in a fuzzy mouse suit. I know how much the servers despise us and I understand their feelings completely.


For example, the other day my husband, kids, and I went to eat lunch at Uncle Julio’s which is one of my absolute favorite Mexican restaurants. Before we even sat down, Diego had managed to run in between the legs of several guests, nearly toppling a seventy-five-year-old grandma on her way to the restroom. 


We had the nicest waiter who didn’t act like he detested us in the least. He brought us crayons, coloring sheets, and extra napkins without even asking. He didn’t seem disturbed when we had to return several drinks because the kids mixed beans and salsa into them. He didn’t even roll his eyes when we dropped an entire plate of guacamole on the floor, or when Diego nearly overturned the table next to us, or when Nino accidentally threw a tortilla and it landed on the hostess. 


Meanwhile, I was distracted by a young couple at the table across from us. You could tell from their body language that they were obviously in their first month or two of dating. They were flirting around with each other and holding one another’s gaze with rapt attention. The girl was toying with her hair and the guy was inching his chair closer to hers.


I remembered when my husband and I were dating. I remembered how it felt to stare at him across the table, fiddling with my fork because I was too excited to eat. I looked across the table at my own husband who was trying to keep Diego from climbing into the chip bowl. I gave him a flirty smile and tried to pretend I didn’t have a twenty-eight-pound toddler crawling across the table on his hands and knees on his way to my lap. 


“What’s going on, baby?” he said with a funny smile.  


“Nothing,” I replied, twirling a strand of my hair. “I was just remembering what it was like to go out with you before we were married with children.” 


He was still looking at me kind of funny, but didn’t say anything. 


“What?” I said. “Is something wrong?” 


“Nothing, sweetie. It’s just that you have a little bit of sour cream in your hair,” he said quietly, as if he regretted to have to tell me. 


Embarrassed, I looked down and sure enough, I was just about to twist a meatball-size wad of sour cream right through my fingers. Not that it would have made a big difference. My hands and shirt had already been baptized with guacamole minutes before, when Spiderman decided to take a dip in the Avocado Lagoon, thanks to Diego.


It took me a while to get used to being a restaurant outcast. As a former waitress, I was used to being a desirable customer. A customer who knew how to act, how to order, how to not be a nuisance and most especially how to tip.


When we first started taking our son Nino to restaurants when he reached the high chair age, I was horrified by the amount of food that we would leave behind on the floor. I would even get down there and try to clean it up somewhat so it didn’t appear that we ate our entire meal beneath the table. I would apologize profusely to the servers when I asked for extra straws, silverware and napkins for the fifth time and feel ashamed to admit when we needed replacements for our spilled food or drinks. I felt especially neurotic as I did Olympic laps around the restaurant while chasing my toddler who was determined to have nothing to do with the table we were seated at.


Over the years I’ve relaxed somewhat. I’m still not crazy about being a restaurant outcast, but I don’t get down on my hands and knees to try and clean up. Someone else cleaning up is actually one of the main benefits of restaurant dining, I now realize, along with free crayons and meal replacements when the children accidentally drop their plates on the floor. I am especially fond of restaurants who seat all the families in a specific room which is generally a lot rowdier (and filthier) than the rest of the facility, but in a good way, because then you don’t have to worry when your two-year-old decides to eat beneath your neighbors’ table while lying on his back, picking his nose and massaging his toe lint. 


Yes, I do understand why waiters and waitresses aren’t fond of families. But, at the same time, I really do like to eat out occasionally. So we suck it up and accept that we are about as desirable as toxic waste, try the keep out children at least in the general vicinity of our table, apologize when we ask for extra napkins for the twelfth time, and always, always leave a generous tip.

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