Shelly Sachwitz stood waiting in the crowded lobby of Perkins Restaurant & Bakery carrying one grandchild with her left arm and holding the hand of another with her right. Her daughter, Jaclyn, put their name in for a table for five and made her way back through the crowd to wait with her family.
It was a Sunday, and Shelly, her daughter and three grandchildren decided to treat themselves to brunch after church.
There are days when the family won’t even consider going out to eat, usually because the youngest of Jaclyn’s three children, Lucas, 1, and Adilyn, 3, are too squirmy or loud. Today, though, they’re calm and entertained. Lucas is watching a cartoon on an iPhone while Adilyn stays engaged in conversation with her grandmother.
It’s the other children around them who are loud and rambunctious.
In fact, it’s so noisy in the lobby that it takes several tries before Jaclyn’s oldest child, 15-year-old Makayla, finally notices the host calling their name. The family makes its way to the table and sits down, and a waitress immediately brings two paper kid’s menus and a couple of crayons over for Lucas and Adilyn.
“The older one (Adilyn), it usually keeps her busy, but the other one, he just wants his food,” Jaclyn said of the crayons and paper.
If Lucas starts to get impatient and fussy, she’ll ask the waitress for some crackers to tide him over, which usually keeps them busy until the meal comes.
Family restaurants and diners are always packed on Sundays, especially after church lets out. It’s nearly impossible to find a parking spot, and it’s equally tough to find a quiet place to sit.
That’s par for the course on Sundays — and sometimes Saturdays, too. For many, it’s the one time during the week that the whole family can get together, fussy children included.
Mind your manners
Many have heard the story of Laura King, the Washington state mother of three who received a discount on a restaurant bill for having well-behaved children, after a photo of the receipt went viral in February. The story resonates with parents and non-parents alike. Parents understand the challenge of keeping small children well-behaved in public. Non-parents know what it’s like to have dinner or a movie ruined by screaming children. But being financially rewarded by a business for good behavior is something new for both.
Shelly and Jaclyn said they’ve never heard of such a thing, nor do they expect it. It’s part of the parent’s responsibility to know when to take your children out with you and when to leave them at home, Shelly said. It’s not up to restaurants to give out incentives.
King said in an AP story that her kids apply the same table etiquette at restaurants as she’s taught them to use at her dining room table at home.
Rob Scott, the owner of the Italian restaurant Sogno di Vino who gave the discount, said in the story that the restaurant was crowded the night King’s family came in, which can be challenging for families with small children. He was impressed by the way the family was engaging with each other and with how well-behaved the children were.
Roger Hefner has been manager at the Perkins on South Douglas Highway for 21 years. He said he sees many well-behaved children day in and day out, but there are always loud, messy kids that stand out. Ultimately, he said, it comes down to parenting, adding he doesn’t believe there is the same respect between people as there used to be.
“I don’t mind picking up the crayons and the kid’s menus off the floor. It’s the eggs, it’s the hash browns and it’s the macaroni and cheese that I mind,” Hefner said.
To accommodate his patrons, Hefner provides paper kid’s menus and crayons so children can pass the time productively while they’re waiting for their food. He also does the best he can to seat families or individuals who don’t have children in a different area from those who do, especially if he can see they’ve brought work to do or a book to read.
Ken Barkey, owner of the Prime Rib Restaurant and Wine Cellar, said he does the same. The restaurant provides crayons, coloring pads and Wikki Stix (waxy, moldable craft sticks) to keep antsy children busy, and will seat people in quieter areas if they ask.
Barkey saw the story about King and her family, and while he doesn’t see the need to give patrons incentives, he is glad the King family was thanked.
“Any time you see good parenting, it’s awesome,” he said. “It’s always good to recognize that. Being a parent myself, it’s nice to be congratulated for that.”
Terri Hinkel teaches family and consumer sciences at Sage Valley Junior High School. She said she sets aside time during the cooking unit to talk about table manners.
“I think it’s important, because even when you go apply to different jobs, they may take you out to eat, and they’re going to look at how you treat the waiter and waitress,” Hinkel said.
Although she primarily works with students in seventh through ninth grades, she’s raised kids of her own and knows it’s important to start teaching them early to be polite. Again, the responsibility falls on the parents.
“I think before you walk into a restaurant, sit down and explain to the kids what the rules will be and your expectations,” she said. “If parents will just make conversation with their kids, then they can keep everything flowing and no body will be acting up.”
But Hinkel does admit that even if you explain your expectations as a parent, younger kids won’t always listen. That’s where bringing toys or games along is important, she said.
“I think we need to teach kids manners, but sometimes they’re just going to act up,” she said.
Kids will be kids
Jaclyn said a lot changes when you have kids, especially if you want to go out to dinner or a show. She said there are tricks parents learn to keep their kids well-behaved, but situations like that Sunday at Perkins can prove to be difficult.
“You have to bring a lot more stuff with you,” she said laughing. “Diaper bags, diapers, wipes, food, toys, books, something to keep them entertained.”
And sometimes, you simply can’t take your children out with you, Shelly added. It depends on what kind of day they’re having.
“Either make sure you have a good baby sitter or make sure you go to a place that is kid-oriented. If not, make sure you bring lots of toys, and an iPhone,” Shelly said, nodding at Lucas.
Shelly said times have changed since she was raising her children, but not dramatically. New technology like iPhones and Kindles are a way to keep kids entertained and quiet, she said, but old tricks like carrying small candies in your purse to use as rewards for good behavior still work too. What it really comes down to is the parenting, not the children themselves.
“It just depends on how you raise your kids,” Shelly said, as she helped Adilyn color a picture on her menu.
She and Jaclyn try to enforce the same rules and manners in public as they do at home. But sometimes, she said, kids will be kids and there’s not much a parent can do about it.
Shelly recalled a time when she was complimented by a sales associate for having such well-behaved children while out shopping with her four kids years ago. In contrast, Jaclyn remembered a time when she had to chase a yelling, giggling Makayla through a department store, scoop her up and take her home because she was being so loud.
“Sometimes you just can’t help that,” Jaclyn said. “Kids are kids.”
A quiet space
Restaurants aren’t the only places where parents and business owners pay close attention to children.
The Cam-plex Heritage Center also works to make the theater experience a pleasant one for the whole family. It offers two cry rooms in the back, one on each side of the theater, for parents to take their fussy children. They’re private, enclosed spaces with large glass windows and speakers that pump the sound in from the stage. That way, families can watch the show without disturbing the rest of the audience.
Before any production begins, a Cam-plex employee will make an announcement asking audience members to silence their cellphones and refrain from any flash photography or video recording. When there are young children present, they’ll point out the cry rooms as well.
Cam-plex theater manager Jaymi Gilmour-Crowley said the rooms aren’t as applicable when they’re hosting a children’s production since it’s expected that most of the audience will be a little loud. It’s during the more quiet, adult shows when they come in handy.
She added that many parents don’t realize they have the cry rooms available, but take advantage of them once they know they are there.
“It works out really well, and it’s also a nice place for nursing mothers,” she said.
In addition to the cry rooms, the Heritage Center has TV monitors in the lobby and speakers that pump the sound in.
“So if they have toddlers, they can let them run around and still keep tabs on what’s happening inside the theater,” Gilmour-Crowley said.
Several churches in town also incorporate cry rooms in the back of their worship halls.
Samuel Jacobson, who’s almost 2, was almost able to sit quietly through the end of mass on Sunday. Almost.
Just before communion, he started to get restless. He began to squirm and cry out, so his mother, Katie Jacobson, took his hand and led him into the cry room at the back of St. Matthew’s Catholic Church.
It too has a large window and a speaker that allows them to hear what’s being said. The room also has three individual pews, six chairs, one wooden rocking chair, a changing table and a pile of children’s books in the back. The pair is familiar with the space. Jacobson kneels on a pew and Samuel goes straight for the rocking chair.
“We almost always end up here,” Jacobson said, smiling at Samuel.
She kneeled, stood, sang and prayed with the rest of the congregation. She could hear them, but they couldn’t hear Samuel.
“He’s a very busy boy,” Jacobson said.
Samuel climbed up on the pew next to his mom, grabbed a song book and imitated her moves. After a little while, he grew bored and began adventuring around the room, touching everything. Jacobson continued to sing and pray, but kept an eye on Samuel through the reflection in the glass. Every few minutes, she’d take his hand and bring him close to her.
“At least in here I don’t have to pay constant attention to him and can celebrate my faith a little bit,” she said.
Jacobson said sometimes parents never know what their kids are going to do, or how they are going to act, whether they are in public or not. She said she does the best she can with her children, but resources like the cry rooms at her church help out tremendously.
“He’s not bad, he’s just 2,” she laughed.