Babies and toddlers at restaurants, yes or no?

This is a debate that continues to pop-up, should children and babies be made to feel welcome in restaurants - by fellow diners and restaurant staff. 

New mom Nontando Mposo and food & drinks reporter Nathan Adams are on opposite sides of the fence. 

Nontando Mposo says YES 

At just 4-months-old, my son Sipho is a foodie in training. He started restaurant hopping at  6 weeks old, visiting some of the coolest eateries in Cape Town. 

So far, each of the restaurants we have been to has been welcoming and accommodating when we ask for a  quiet table with a cushioned bench, so we can put him down when he falls asleep.

There is never an issue when we ask for a bowl of warm water so we can heat up his bottled milk for a feed. For the most part, his father and  I will take turns holding him so we can each comfortably eat our meal. 

Sometimes, his dad will eat with him on his chest, strapped in a baby carrier and other times, when he is fussy or irritable, I will eat with one hand while I hold him in my other arm. 

During my maternity leave, these trips to eat provided a much-needed break from being at home alone with Sipho. Feeding off the energy of other adults, I would feel like I was part of society again. 

And seated opposite each other, my partner and I could have a normal conversation without any distractions. Lucky for us, Sipho is a quiet baby, and during our outings, there has never been an outburst. 

We usually time the outings to be after his afternoon nap and feed so that he will be less irritable and calm.  

We haven’t been to dinner yet with him because his routine includes bath time at 7 pm and bedtime at 9 pm. For date night, we leave him at home with a babysitter. 

However, some parents are not so lucky and their babies or toddlers are not as calm as Sipho. We have witnessed screaming episodes and tantrums. 

When you are child-free, it's understandable that a crying baby can be annoying at a restaurant, just as they can be during a flight. You do deserve to enjoy your meal in peace. I used to be annoyed by toddlers staring at me, pulling at my hair while at a restaurant – until now. 

Now I am more sympathetic, after all, what are parents supposed to do? Are we supposed to ban all parents from eating out until their children turn  18, or ask them to only visit Spur and Wimpy? I think not. 

The next time there is a crying baby or a staring toddler at a restaurant you are in, send an encouraging smile to the parents, they are probably sleep deprived, tired, hungry and just as frustrated as you are. 

Like you, they are there to have a good meal away from home.  

Nathan Adams says NO 

Dining out must be an experience. 

The food is often considered the definitive factor on whether it was a good or bad experience, but there are several other factors that can ruin a meal. 

One of those is the unpredictable factor of whether or not you’ll be sharing your dining experience with someone else’s baby or toddler. No references are being made to family restaurants now, at those eateries there are play areas and activities for children. 

And I’m not even going to reference the other extreme here of fine dining restaurants either. I really struggle to understand why any parent would want to take their baby or toddler with them to a restaurant at which they clearly don’t belong. 

The first clue should be the absence of a kiddies’ menu – if they are not cooking for your toddler, why did you bring your toddler?  Babies have no place at a restaurant either. 

Why would you want to sit with your baby on a night out with either your partner or friends? Surely you’ve left home for a reason, usually to relax and escape your reality for a few hours. If you can’t find a babysitter or won’t leave your baby with anyone, you might need to rethink your night out. 

Toddlers are worse. There’s a point in the evening when every toddler becomes restless. I don’t blame the little ones. I’ve seen that many of them are just bored. There’s nothing for them to do at the restaurant, so they act up. 

Toddlers also get restless because their parent(s) don’t give them the attention they get at home once they sit down at a restaurant. Once, at an event for a tequila rand, held in a Cape Town night club, I saw a woman with a pram.  

Shocked, I asked the organiser if everything was okay. I was told that her husband was working that evening and she decided to tag along… with her 6-month-old  baby. The strobe lights and noise must have been overwhelming for that baby. And that for me is the keyword everyone should keep in mind: “overwhelm”.

Ask yourself, if I take this baby or child with me to the restaurant is it going to overwhelm the little one? Will they get irritable, and would this be overwhelming for me or other patrons? 

Parents need to be more considerate, not to fellow diners,  but to their kids who act out because they don’t want to be at the restaurant and pass that feeling on to everyone else who paid for an enjoyable baby-free night out.