Seen in the Scene, but not Heard in the Herd

We’ve all been there, no matter your age, out for a quiet (for your standards) drink of an evening and a group younger than you come into the bar, loud, laughing and daring to have fun. They either order a single drink each, taking up the whole bar and all the bar staff, often not knowing what they want to drink and taking quite a while deciding, while they’re being served, or they’ll get a round in and have to keep shouting back to their table to find out what people want because they’ve forgotten in the few minutes it takes them to stumble over a chair and trip over someone’s back on the way to the bar. And they always order Guinness last.

They spread out, pulling tables together, dragging them along the floor with an excruciating scrape. Requests for hijacking the stereo playlists are very vocal, and singing so off pitch it could be considered for the England Cricket Team fills the air, occasionally with substituted lyrics that would make a porn star blush. Drinks are spilled, usually someone else’s, and empty packets of snacks bought elsewhere are left littering the place when they leave, along with glasses still half full remaining on the table and not returned to the bar.

And when they leave, no matter how old we are, no matter who we’re with, we’ll start a conversation about Kids Today.

Opinions will be voiced about bad behaviour, about manners, about not understanding pub etiquette. Memories so rose tinted they could win Chelsea Flower Show will be voiced about how it used to be different, about how we remember going to the pub when we were younger, about learning from the old men in flat caps, or occasionally our own parents, how to behave. How to be polite to the bar staff, how to not bring your own food in, how to not raise your voice above that of the general chatter, how to take your dirty glasses back to the bar when you’ve finished with them.

We learnt how to behave in pubs back then, but what do kids today know? Nothing.

And that is worrying, because socialising with people is a very important part of any community. Whether it’s a back-street boozer or a village temperance bar, a coffee shop or a greasy spoon, we only learn how to behave in these environments when we have access to them.

Which is why I was a bit annoyed to read an article in the Guardian by Tony Naylor, someone whose work I normally really enjoy. I can agree with the sentiment that staff and other diners are not there to look after someone else’s children. But I don’t agree with the idea of giving children tablets with the sound turned off; this isn’t helping kids learn about acceptable behaviour in restaurants. I also don’t agree with “do not get huffy because the kitchen declines to make child-friendly tweaks to dishes”, especially when earlier in the article dietary requirements are covered and we’re told it’s fine to ask for tweaks, just do it when booking.

The onus is on parents to look after their kids, to bring them up as well as they can, to teach them manners and how to behave in public. Taking kids out to eat is a part of that, knowing which places will be suitable for their child as they learn how restaurants work and how to behave in them. And family-friendly places like Wacky Warehouses are not the places to teach children how to behave. Getting over-stuffed with microwaved frozen ready meals and fizzy drinks before hyperactivity sets in and they vomit in the ball pit doesn’t teach children how to hold a dinner conversation. Ignoring them as they get into fights with other kids while mummy has another box of wine and daddy drinks his tenth pint of macro-lager to get his free “Daddy Drinker” hat doesn’t teach kids about appreciating their food.

So please, ignore the advice to ignore your kids. Take them out with you to places you believe they’re able to learn from, engage with them, interact with them, and teach them about how good food and drink can be.

I’ve never had to throw a child out of any of my pubs for behaving like a dick.

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