Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments. For this installment, we hear from a Dutch server who is no fan of children in restaurants.
When I started my job at the restaurant a few years ago, I loved kids.
When I would see a bunch of dads coming in with a few toddlers in tow, I would coo to my co-workers about how cute they all were. They laughed at me and only had one response: "Just wait …"
These days, I'm not a big fan of kids. A lot of families dine at my restaurant and serving them has been such an intense experience that it forced me to remove my rose-colored glasses and see the truth: children are miniature terrorists—and most of the time, their parents aren't much better.
My workplace can be described as a family restaurant, which means that there are always kids around. This is what keeps the place running. A lot of the time it's actually quite fun, but Sundays are different. On those days, half of Amsterdam collectively decides to go out to eat with their kids. Once our restaurant fills up with so many small and loud people, it's hard for us servers to do our jobs well.
Children are miniature terrorists—and most of the time, their parents aren't much better.
Because kids will be kids and want to play constantly, it's mostly dangerous. We have coloring books and pencils, but that's about it when it comes to entertainment for them. To get rid of their excess energy, children end up running around between the tables. They also love playing tag and soccer, riding around on their rollerblades, and even sitting on the floor with their marbles and other small, round objects that are serious tripping hazards for servers.
When you're walking to a table with a tray of hot coffee, you need to be very good at overcoming obstacles. Kids with the sneakers that have wheels attached to the heels often bump into my legs, causing my heart to momentarily stop. It's not only because they almost make me fall flat on my face, but also because the parents blame me if their spawn gets covered in mashed potatoes, or worse, a piping-hot beverage.
The worst thing I almost tripped on was a toddler. I remember walking to a table with a few plates in my hands when a kid suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Instinctively, I tried to dodge him, because I knew another child had to be nearby. Turns out that in my moment of panic, I had jumped over a toddler who was crawling on the floor between the tables. That incident made me very upset. Everyone in the whole restaurant was staring at me and the kid could have been seriously hurt, but the absolute worst moment was when I asked the parents if they could please pick their offspring up from the floor. They looked at me like I was a child-hating monster.
Look, we can't put up a sign like they do in public pools that tells people not to run around it. Sometimes I feel like we should have a warning on the menu stating that parents are responsible for their own kids. Or maybe write that on the wall somewhere, where people can see it. It seems like it wouldn't be necessary, but on a regular Sunday, I spend a lot of time losing my voice from yelling at random kids that run around like maniacs. I'm not saying that loud, active kids are the result of bad parenting. Rather, it seems like parents think that a dinner out with friends and kids at a restaurant is a great time to take a break from their children.
It feels like managing a kindergarten birthday party gone wrong, and that's not included in my job description.
We get a lot of reservations on Sundays from big groups consisting of parents with kids. Many times, they will be young parents who order plenty of wine while their kids play with each other. The adults are a lot more relaxed and laid-back than they normally are because they are in an enclosed space where they assume the staff will make sure their kids don't leave the premises. This means that they are not watching their offspring, which effectively turns us employees into babysitters while we're also busy taking orders and serving.
The parents love the fact that we're a "kid-friendly restaurant" and that pisses me off. I have learned to say no to people who ask if the adults can all sit together at one table, leaving the kids to their own devices at another. Sorry, Mom and Dad, but serving a table of toddlers is no joke. It feels like managing a kindergarten birthday party gone wrong, and that's not included in my job description.
It also often happens that kids take all the clean silverware and glasses from empty tables while they're playing. They really get into spilling the contents of full glasses all over the tablecloths, and are so loud that all the other guests complain about the noise levels. If I don't know which kid goes with which table of parents, I take it upon myself to ask the child to calm down. Unfortunately, parents are often not very appreciative of my request. They get mad at me, or interpret my instructions as an offense to their parenting styles. Responses like "I can decide for myself how I speak to my own child" and "mind your own business" are very common and very uncomfortable.
Whatever we do, we hardly ever get it right. One parent complains that we're not letting his child "enjoy his childhood" and that we don't provide board games, while another mentions that the coloring pencils are too old. The rest of our customers—the ones without kids—complain about them.
But people who often complain about kids really seem to hate children. They think the bathrooms smell too much like baby poo, dirty diapers, and diaper cream. They don't like it when a woman is breastfeeding nearby while they are eating, and keeping these people happy is just as annoying as dealing with kids. I totally understand them, but if you really don't want to eat next to a kid, why come to this restaurant?
We find baby wipes everywhere.
I shouldn't be saying it, but over time, my restaurant has been split up into a "kid-friendly" zone and a "child-free" corner. We get at least three calls a day from people who want to make a reservation, but only in the child-free part of the restaurant. We always tell them that there is no such zone and that we can't promise them anything, but we do fill up half the restaurant with families first so we can keep the other half more quiet. There is definitely a demand for child-free restaurants, but nobody dares to say it out loud.
Like I said: Sundays are so much worse than other days of restaurant service. That's not only because it's harder to get food and drinks to the tables, but also because we have to play babysitter and deal with extra complaints from people without kids. It triples the amount of work we are hired to do. The orders are more complicated because the kids want their main course while the parents are having appetizers. We're constantly running back and forth to the kitchen with small containers and baby bottles. Sometimes we need to add hot water to baby formula, but sometimes the parents want the water to be cold. Between shifts, we're busy scraping spaghetti and red sauce from the upholstery and every table that includes kids is a complete disaster zone. We find baby wipes everywhere. I really despise those moist, dirty things.
When I come home after a Sunday like that, I feel like I've worked 24 hours. The energy has literally been sucked out of me. I fall onto my bed and won't move for the rest of the day. One thing is certain: I'm nowhere near ready to have kids.
As told to Stefanie Staelens.