A Family Affair?
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One of the weekend broadsheets recently ran a piece about the experiences of a lady who took her large family from London to Penzance by train. Depending on how you read the story -- and I guess what preconceptions you brought to the table - you could reach one of the following conclusions: a) she let her ill-disciplined brats run wild throughout the journey; b) her fellow passengers were a bunch of dry, seedless old harridans who had never had children themselves; or c) both of the above. I fell firmly into category c) and it got me thinking about kids in restaurants. Take them with you or leave them at home?
Let me make clear at the outset I have nothing but contempt in equal measure for both sets of protagonists. Parents who blithely ignore their screaming kids as they scamper around restaurants driving other diners to distraction deserve a painful death. But so too do those po-faced couples that positively exude disdain the moment a child walks through the door or so much as gurgles. In Britain, for some reason, there doesn't seem to be much of a middle ground.
The French, as with most things that count (alcohol consumption, healthy eating, sex), seem to be able to effortlessly strike just the right balance. Visit any Gallic bistro or brasserie and you will find tables dining en famille, kids and the rest chowing down with the same sensational food and drink, making plenty of racket but apparently not nearly enough to warrant the attentions of other diners. Here it's a very different story.
Families tend to gravitate towards the dreaded 'family restaurant' which essentially means eating unhealthy, mass-produced, reheated food full of e numbers that send the little tykes' hyperactivity levels off the scale. All this as an unending stream of rugrats run backwards and forwards past your table either to the loo or the attached indoor playground. If growing up is an education is it any wonder that kids, on the rare occasions they do get dragged to a decent restaurant, have little idea of what to eat or how to behave?
-- RHODES ARNOLD
REPLY FROM 'NDM'
I enjoyed Rhodes' piece on family eating out. The culture of doing so doesn't really exist in this country as it does elsewhere. For example, in most European countries eating out in large groups particularly with plenty of family members is a way of life and normal behavior within any community. The restaurants are there to serve this purpose. You also have to bear in mind that in these countries it is still common practice to eat together as a family whether in the home or out. The situation in the UK is much different. Many restauranteurs make up their numbers and justify their business plans by selling large quantities of expensive alcohol to their customers. Family dining is not really conducive to this and as a result not heartily encouraged. For most families the cost of eating out together is pretty hard on the household income so I guess that's why many are drawn towards the pub chains that offer cheap, processed food and plastic entertainment for the children who are probably not used to eating meals with their parents and completely unaware of any sort of social skills at the table. The real enjoyment of eating together has to start in the home where children are encouraged to be respectful of what they eat and given every opportunity to expand their knowledge and taste for food and, most importantly, their appetite for conversation. I know it's probably not the same for everyone, but, for me the highlight of the week is sunday lunch when we invariably eat as family and often with friends. It might be a barbeque in the summer or a roast at the kitchen table in the winter. Eating with the kids is a real pleasure and this extends to the occasions when we decide to eat out.
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