Sunday, January 28, 2007

Commercial Appeal Article

Monkey tales -- 'Kids are kids . they knock things over, throw things, they're loud. But there is a limit'
Commercial Appeal, The (Memphis, TN) - Sunday, January 28, 2007
Author/Byline: Leanne Kleinmann
Edition: Final
Section: Features
Page: M1

It was a calculated risk, trying to grab dinner at a sushi restaurant with two hungry little boys and not much time. Distractions included floating sushi boats that circle the dining room carrying their cargo of tuna rolls, full glasses of ice water (no lidded kid cups here), and people in nearly every booth at the usually deserted hour of 5:30 p.m.

Still, Stacey Greenberg was up for the challenge. Greenberg runs Dining with Monkeys , a highly entertaining restaurant review blog for families that contains valuable intelligence for both Us (people who like to eat out with little kids in tow) and Them (people who want to eat out in peace, but who also might be the same people as Us, on a different night).

Greenberg seems unflappable as she reminds the monkeys (4-year-old Satchel and 2-year-old Jiro) to sit down, eat their dinner, and ignore those fascinating sushi boats. But the hilarious entries on her blog have inspired as much anger as laughter. She says she had to shut down the blog's comments section to stop abuse and insults from "childless by choice" activists. This, even though Greenberg is clearly trying to teach her boys how polite people behave, and prepare them for a lifetime of good food and good conversation.

Seems everyone has something to say about how kids behave in restaurants, and who's responsible for it.

A recent discussion on the blog at turned up an array of passionate opinion, prompted by this question: "When did it become okay to let toddlers stand up on the seats at restaurants? Do these folks let the kids stand on the furniture at home?"

Well, no, say some moms who responded, including Greenberg. "I do my best to keep my monkeys under control and would certainly leave a restaurant if I felt that their behavior was seriously affecting the other customers' enjoyment of their meals," she wrote.

"In some ways, I think this topic is as divisive as the 'should I stay at home or work' topic," wrote Courtney Santo, another local mom of two and writer. "It prompts people to talk about their worst experiences.

"People who let their children scream . are most likely the same people who have loud, inappropriate cell phone conversations. It is not that they are parents, but they are rude people to begin with ."

Also on the blog is a picture of a sign in the window of a coffee shop in Chicago: "Unattended children will be given an espresso and a free puppy."

It almost sounds as though Thomas Boggs, CEO of the Huey's empire and partner in fine dining restaurants from Tsunami to Folk's Folly, would happily put up a sign like that.

"We promote kids," he said of the seven Huey's locations, pointing out that restaurants that don't welcome children are losing business in an era when some of his family customers eat at a Huey's twice a week. "But," he adds with admirable understatement, "I'm sometimes very surprised at what parents let their kids get away with ." (This from the guy who runs restaurants where you can blow frilled toothpicks into the ceiling!)

Ashley Boggs Williams, one of Boggs's daughters, a mom herself, and vice-president of operations for Huey's, Inc., chimes in, "When you don't have kids, you think you'll never do any of that stuff. But then you look at the crackers, the straws, the sugar packets under the table and you can't believe it."

Both Boggses say the Huey's staff is used to dealing with families, though they won't hesitate to talk to a customer if they feel their kids are out of control. Ashley says she's never had to ask anyone to leave ("I have," says Thomas), but sometimes has to take the frill picks away.

"It's as tricky a thing as you can ever do," talking to customers about their kids' behavior, says Raymond Williams, co-owner of Soul Fish Café in Cooper-Young and a dad himself. "Kids are kids . they knock things over, throw things, they're loud. But there is a limit."

What to do? "I've gotten up and left restaurants before."

Folks who want kids in restaurants to be seen and not heard might be surprised to learn that the people who are most concerned about how their children are behaving are parents themselves.

"I can't stand to be around my kids when they're acting up in a public place," says Dana Brandon, mom of Emma, in second grade, and Ben, a preschooler.

P.A. Bomani, whose two kids are teenagers now, has taken them to restaurants since they were in high chairs, but was always concerned about their behavior. "Self-discipline doesn't really exist, and I was not going to have my kids running around buck wild," he says.

Evidently they got the message: "Once, at Red Lobster when my daughter was about 2, she saw a kid at the next table being loud, standing up in the booth. She kept looking at him, her eyes got real big, and you could see she was thinking, 'Sit down, sit down, sit down. Death is upon you .'

"My wife and I looked at that table and thought, 'They haven't had their parenting lessons yet.'"

Of course, a little bit of slack from everyone might just be the solution. "You never know if that family driving you nuts ... (is) in town because one of their children is being treated for cancer at St. Jude. Or maybe they're just having a bad day," wrote Rebecca Flaherty, mom of Gwen, 3, and Ollie, 1. "So before you write off all the people and children who disrupt your dinner, try a little kindness.

"And I promise you, if I ever see children running crazily through a restaurant, flinging pieces of chicken nuggets dipped in ketchup at everyone, I will trip them."

Leanne Kleinmann : 529-2535;



Go early.

Avoid school nights, when kids are tired and restless.

Be sure the kids are actually hungry for dinner.

Hit the playground before dinner, to work up an appetite, work off excess energy.

Bring some stickers or a coloring book in case of disaster.

Let the kid pick the restaurant. Sometimes.

Source: Stacey Greenberg

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