Children in Tea Rooms

Recently my friend Lisa and I had tea at a small tea room in our area. Of the dozen or so tables about half were filled. Conversations were low; the atmosphere was relaxing. We’d just finished our soup when it happened: Moms with small children came in the door!

The first fuss began even before they were seated. Both mothers wanted to bring their huge monster strollers into the tea room. There really wasn’t enough space but the mothers insisted, crowding the tables next to them. The children both about 3 years old, didn’t remain in the strollers but sat on their mothers’ laps. You might imagine how long that lasted.

At various times while we were having our tea, the children ran around the tea room, even into the open kitchen, they screamed, they cried, one threw a tantrum while lying on the floor, one sang at the top of his lungs and they both ran up to the other guests playing tag.

What were the mothers doing while all that was going on? You guessed it! They were completely oblivious to what was going on. The waitress tried to wrangle the kids but she was not very successful. Dirty looks were flying around the room to no avail. As the courses arrived at their table, the mothers herded the children back to eat. Most of their food was thrown on the floor along with the sugar packets they’d been given to play with, an unappetizing mess for the rest of us.

Lisa and I both agreed that this was the worst tea experience we’d ever had. We couldn’t hold a conversation because of the noise, we had to be constantly on guard that one of the children would run into us and frankly we were more than a little annoyed and peeved. If this tea room didn’t require a full deposit at the time of the reservation, we would have simply gotten up and walked out the door.

So what can be done about unruly children in tea rooms? Many tea rooms have policies regarding children. Some say that no children under age 6 will be permitted; others put the age at a very high 12. I’ve seen several that state “Well behaved guests of all ages are welcome.” I’m afraid that last one might be too subtle. The tea room owner could have spoken with the mothers, asking specifically that the children be kept at their table. She could have asked them to leave. She could refuse any future reservations by those mothers. Would that be bad publicity for the tea room as the mothers tell their friends how poorly they were treated (in their eyes only.) Hmmm, 24 very unhappy guests, 2 rude mothers. I believe I'd ban them.

Now I realize some people may read this and disagree. Some will say that the children had a “right” to be there. Maybe those people have never heard the expression, “Your rights end where mine begin.” There is also the argument that children must be taken out in public restaurants so they will learn how to behave. I agree, but very young children should be taken to family style places, not tea rooms with their expectation of calm. And as part of the teaching experience, if the child begins to disturb other guests, she should be taken to the restroom, outside to the car or back home.

We eat with all our senses and I believe tea room owners know this better than anyone. The rooms are decorated beautifully, the food is presented in the prettiest ways, waitresses are welcoming and helpful. When our senses are overloaded by the commotion of crying, screaming children who are running around, our entire tea experience is diminished.