“I have children at home, I do not want to see children when I am out eating my dinner”. Her lips curled up as these words left her mouth, as she expressed her distaste to the Maitre D ,as my children and their cousin stood nearby.  She’s right, kids shouldn’t be out in restaurants, I hear some of you say as you read this, but what if I continued on to say this was 6.15pm. Would that change your viewpoint? This was a family friendly restaurant by day, a restaurant that has put time into their children’s’ menu,making it in my opinion the best childrens menu I have seen over the years of eating out. A restaurant we have frequented on many occasions, at all sitting times, with and without our children.

But this was 6.15pm and we were getting ready to leave the restaurant. It was a special occasion starting at 4pm ,a family dinner to celebrate my fortieth birthday. I cannot fault the restaurant, they looked after us all as they always do, they were great with the kids, talking directly to them, and overall it’s a fantastic memory. I am angry with myself that I allowed that woman, a fellow parent, to mar the end of a very special meal for my family and I. Looking back now, happy memory intact, I struggle to understand the level of distaste from that diner. If any child was running around a restaurant causing havoc and being loud and not under adult supervision, I might have been able to somehow understand the  content of the complaint.

Eating out is something my husband and I have always enjoyed, prior to the twins coming along we would eat out several times a month, and loved finding new places to eat. After becoming parents, we lamented that we would be shoved down the road of fast food outlets, and empty calories, and yes we do on a rare occasion for a treat go to these well-known chains! However when the twins were around five months old, we were missing our old lifestyle and decided we would brave eating out with them.

Everyone knows the restaurants not to bring children to, the intimate, adult only environments and it suited us fine. We were not looking for anywhere where we would stick out like a sore thumb,potentially disturb the atmosphere should a baby cry and like everything in life, everything has its place, we just had to find where our new places were. We were just happy to be having our dinners served up to us, that there was plenty of other places to eat in that served up good food and offered good service, so meals were eaten before the babies would have a chance to get tired.

From then on we have eaten out at least once a month, and by now have our favourite haunts which we revisit all the time. Many happy memories are captured on our cameras of the four of us sitting around a dinner table. The twins started out in their car-seats, moved to high chairs and now, for the most part, are sitting at the table, very pleased with themselves at three and a half that they’re in the ” big seats”.  Hence my disbelief at this reaction, what is wrong with seeing a child, out, at a dinner table? Because we are now parents, does that mean that we should never step foot in a restaurant with our children again? Do children not deserve to enjoy an experience we all love? Should they not have the opportunity to sample new foods and tastes?  How can a parent, at a respectful hour, have such an issue with having a child in their eye line?

We are lucky enough that our two enjoy food as much as we do and love sitting at the dining table, I am not saying every time we eat out looks like an episode from the Waltons . Yes, sometimes they get out of their seats, sometimes they might not eat their food, sometimes they might have a moan but it is up to us as their parents to assess the situation and make a decision on whether we pack up or whether we break out the ice-cream.  Children are actively welcomed late into the night at the dinner table on the continent. I personally feel it is a great way to introduce children to social situations.  From speaking with other parents who have encountered negative responses when eating out with their own families, I wonder why there is a disconnect here in Ireland? Why have many I’ve spoken with had tuts and comments thrown at them if a child acts like a child? Or is perfectly well-behaved but looks are thrown in their direction from other diners. Why is their time more important than our time as a family? Why do many of my friends feel like the only option available to them is the local fast food establishment? On the flip side it was great to see that a lot of families are treated very well by family friendly restaurants and cafes. Here kids are fussed over, menus are very obviously thought about and don’t just consist of sausage, burgers and chips. If a restaurant goes to this effort to offer children choice and treats them very well, then surely you need to accept that families will dine there.

I understand the want and the need to enjoy a meal with someone, but is discrimination against children and the family unit the way to achieve this?