Note to all parents: When you dine with your offspring you are paying for the food, the service and someone to clean up your plates, silverware and glasses. What you are not paying for is the privilege of allowing said offspring to empty all the sugar packets on the table and the floor, drive their matchbox cars through the tomato sauce they have spilled on the table, or run around touching everything with their food smeared little fingers disturbing all the other diners and tripping up the waitstaff.
You are also not paying for the opportunity to ignore your little ones and assume that we will watch them for you, discipline them on your behalf or keep them from bothering you while you enjoy a bottle of wine and read the paper.
In all my years as a server there are two parent/child vs waiter stories that really stick out in my mind.
Party of eight (four adults and four small children) enters the restaurant at dinner time to take up residence at their pre-booked table "somewhere near the back so our kids don't bother anyone". Drinks are ordered and delivered, menus have been perused and in good time, one of the dads indicates they are ready to order.
Up until this point, the children have been happily colouring in with the colouring books and pencils that the parents so thoughtfully bought to occupy them. But as her dad starts to order, little miss decides it's time to pipe up in loud and obnoxious protest.
"I don't want chicken and chips, I want ice cream" she wailed.
"If you can ask nicely, you might be allowed to have ice cream for desert, but you have to eat your chicken first" replied dad.
"I want ice cream, I WANT ICE CREAM" she screamed, banging her fists on the table.
At this stage, one of two things will usually occur. A) the parent will give in to avoid a scene or B) they won't give in and a deluge of screaming toddler will ensue. In this case, I witnessed, for the first time in my career, option C) Parent takes control of situation, shows the kid who's boss, and chalks up a win for parents, childless restaurant patrons and wait staff everywhere.
"If you don't stop this carry on I'm going to take you home with no dinner at all" threatened dad. An empty threat if ever I heard one, or so I thought...
Two minutes later, the child was still tantruming like a pro and dad, true to his word, picked her up, took her outside and loaded her in the car to increasingly desperate cries of "I don't want to go home". They were back less than 10 minutes later, the child had calmed down and she and the other tots behaved like angels for the remainder of the meal. Dad for the win!
Mum, dad and inconvenient mistake turn up for lunch. Parents immediately order a bottle of wine and a garlic bread (nothing for the child) and open up their newspapers to sit in stony silence ignoring each other and their offspring. The child, obviously unable to count on anyone else to amuse him, begins to remove each individual sugar sachet from the vessel in which they are housed. He lines them all up on the table, then he attempts to build a tower with them, all the while looking sporadically at those who spawned him for any kind of acknowledgement. When none is forthcoming, he begins to open each sugar packet and empty it on the table.
I wait for three packets to be emptied before it is confirmed that the parents will neither notice or stop the sugar emptying party their son is having. I take matters into my own hands. I dig up a toy some other child left weeks before and approach the little boy. Handing over the toy, I gather up all the sugar packets and replace them in their holder, wipe the small pile of sugar off the table into my hand, and remove the sugar holder from the table, placing it on the waiter's station a few feet away. Nothing is said, the parents barely look up from their papers.
In time, the child grows bored with the recycled toy, throws it on the ground, gets down from his chair and wanders out into the outdoor seating area where he commences a search for ants, leaves, bits of old chip etc. I'm not sure that the parents have even noticed he's gone. He has disappeared completely from their view. About 10 minutes pass and Mum, having possibly tapped into some deeply buried parental instinct, looks over her paper and discovers the child is gone. She beckons me over and accusingly asks
"Where is my child?"
Although I had been keeping half an eye on the boy, (mostly to make sure he didn't mess up any more of my tables,) and I knew exactly where he was, I wasn't about to attempt to reward this mother's lack of supervision.
"I'm not sure" I replied, "He went out that way about 10 minutes ago", I offered, pointing at the door.
"Why did you let him go outside?"She raged
"Um, I didn't let him go anywhere. I assumed you knew what he was up to and you were happy for him to play out there."
"Well, go out there and get him! Don't you know it's unsafe for a small child to play unsupervised?"
"Yes I do ma'am but since he's not my child, perhaps you should go and get him yourself"
After much eye rolling, reprimanding and complaining about the fact that I have "no customer service skills whatsoever", while dad continued to read his paper in sweet oblivion, it must have become obvious that I did, in fact, have no intention of retrieving her child for her. She went to get him herself and dragged him back inside like a disobedient puppy, yelling loudly at him the whole time. She sat him back in his chair, walked over to the waiter's station, grabbed the container of sugar packets I had removed from their table earlier, and emptied them onto the table in front of the child. Then she picked up her paper and went back to ignoring everything that was happening around her.
The child, of course, emptied each packet in a pile on the table but to his credit, he did eat most of it when he was done. I hate to think of the sugar rush his parents had to deal with an hour later, but I can't think of two assholes more deserving of that pleasure.....