Catering to Children is a Huge Missed-Business Opportunity

I feel like we live in a world that discriminates against children. I think that every time I leave the house these days and tonight, on a date with my husband, it really got to me in a way that surprised me.

We were eating dinner at Outback sitting next to a table with a family – two sets of grandparents, and a young family of four with a mom, dad, little girl and a toddler boy. The boy was having a hard time sitting still, which is totally normal, of course, and the mom was being so very patient. The dad was doing absolutely nothing to help with the kids – as his wife struggled to do everything to keep their son happy and feed their daughter, he turned the other way and talked to all the grandparents. I couldn’t believe no one was helping that poor mom! The antsier the boy got, the angrier his dad became. He started growling at his son through his teeth, then turned to us and apologized for his terrible son. I was not at all disturbed the boy, because he wasn’t being loud or annoying, and actually felt very bad for him because he was being expected to behave much older than his years allow. I was much more disturbed by the dad, and how he considered his son to be a burden, an annoyance, and didn’t stop to consider that his son is a person with feelings who is just acting his age.

I thought, you can’t bring small children into an adult setting and expect them to sit still and be calm. That’s just not fair. But, then again, why can’t we? Why must we feel that our children annoy others when they are just acting like children? That’s why we no longer go out to eat – because I hate the shame I feel when my children can’t behave like society believes they should. My husband even says that businesses are traditionally run by men and that’s why they aren’t children-friendly. I think he may have hit the goldmine there.

And all I could think, and this is something that I’ve been plagued with ever since becoming a mom, is that we ALL start off as children in this world, yet are brought up in a world that is made for adults where children are forced to act as adults in public – something they are not developmentally capable of doing  and, in my opinion, shouldn’t have to until they are adults. And the way parents, and especially mothers, are looked at and made to feel shame when their children don’t behave like others think they should, feels like discrimination to me. I feel unwelcome and shame because my children are behaving like children. 

It really saddens me because it causes unnecessary friction between parents and children and discourages that wonderful energy and naivety we claim to love about children. I feel there is huge misunderstanding taking place and us adults so easily forget that children cannot behave like we do. We talk about how we don’t want them to grow up too fast, yet it seems our actions speak to the opposite.

It’s also a huge missed-business opportunity – if malls, stores and our favorite restaurants were welcoming to children in a way that kept them happy, do they realize us moms and dads would be relaxed, not rushed, and would buy way more of their stuff? Airlines are the worst offenders as some talk of having flights where no children are allowed. This makes me so angry – it’s like Jim Crow laws but against children. We are not allowed to discriminate against any other kind of person in this country, so why is it okay to do it to children? They do speak a different language than us adults, and do have their own culture, and can seem like they are creatures from another planet (smile), but if they were welcomed and taken care of, I believe they would behave wonderfully in public.

For instance – why can’t Outback have a family section where children are allowed to be children – Where they can wander freely around and aren’t expected to sit still and be quiet. To do so seems like such a Victorian idea to me – where children were to be seen and not heard. It’s not that they are allowed to be destructive or misbehave, but simply to be children where they can laugh, play, roam, and explore. Where there are small, kid-sized tables that they can easily get up and down from, toys to play with, and soft mats for babies to lie on and crawl upon.

Some malls and grocery stores do have babysitting rooms, where the children can be watched while you shop. This is a huge step in the right direction, but has anyone ever considered changing the whole business model and making a place where it’s safe and fun for children to be with their parents while they shop? Most of us have a hard time trusting total strangers with our hearts and souls. Just change the way the shelves are arranged – with toys and books on the lower shelves that kids only use in the store, and have the items we need to buy on the top shelves. There could be coloring stations, food to taste, and maybe even a story time.

As much as McDonalds has been criticized over the years, they are one of the only businesses who have centered their entire business model around children, and have had HUGE success. It was an ingenious concept that had not been done on a large scale before, and obviously it has worked. People who don’t even have children happily eat there. All other fast food chains saw the money McDonalds was raking in and jumped on the kid bandwagon, too, so why has it stopped there? Us parents want to eat at nice restaurants with our kids, where we don’t have to pay for a babysitter or worse, take the kids with us and struggle to enjoy dinner.

If children were more integrated into our public spaces and allowed to act their age by making those spaces safe and fun, I think that even the adults who aren’t children-friendly won’t mind having children nearby because they will be happy children and not screaming ones. Sure, there will be some crying and screaming, but a whole lot less of it.

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About Sara McFall

Sara is the owner and founder of My Merry Messy Life, which started in 2011 as a way to chronicle her journey to a natural, chemical-free lifestyle and to share her passions of mothering, real food, homeschooling and crochet. She is a mama to three precious and energetic little boys and wife to a university professor who loves to sing, dance ballet and ballroom, and live simply and naturally.


  1. Wow! I can understand how you are feeling. Being a parent for almost 40 yrs now, I remember clearly how much I came to detest the Friday night dinner out with the kids. The places we went to did have some form of activity for children. They always had crayons and paper, free child sized appetizers for the kids and a not so strict “sit down and shut-up” policy. And even with this in place, it wasn’t always a positive experience. Kids being kids weren’t always in the mood to eat out and expressed themselves in any way that got them what they needed. Sometimes that was leaving before the meal arrived and me waiting for the food to arrive via take out while dad had the honour of escorting Matt (lol) to the car to wait. This was extremely unconfortable for me, esp if an alcoholic beverage( beer) was involved and I had to sit there and drink it so it wasn’t wasted, but more so for dad who was in the car with a full blown temper tantrum in progress and NO Beer! I’m not sure if the answer is making all establishments kid friendly. I totally agree with you on the fact that we expect our kids to comprehend things and behave like adults when they just don’t have the mental capabilities of doing so. My kids often get frustrated with their own children and act like children. They wonder why their kids behave that way? I say, look in the mirror. Who is the adult? They are children. This doesn’t go over very well sometimes but it really is so very simple. We shouldn’t expect children to sit still through a meal for about 1-2 hrs in a setting where there are people who shouldn’t have to enjoy the company of little children and their behaviour. Don’t get me wrong. I love children, and have learned as I got older that kids are kids and at the best times so are adults. I don’t particularly like to go out for a nice quiet dinner and have to be stressed over how some parents are not able to effectively make good of a bad situation. If you know your children can’t handle the expectations of the particular venue then why are they bringing them there. Sounds like punishment on both sides. I feel that if a venue offers up kids menus, they should have some form of entertainment for these kids. It’s like luring in the paying customers under false pretenses just to get cash. You either cater to families with kids of all ages or you don’t. When our kids were older and the great Ninento developed the hand held, this became our saving grace. Just like the pacifer, it kept them quiet. I’m not sure what the answer is. Maybe people should be made to take extensive courses in psychology before marraige and reproducing. As a society we can be really dumb sometimes. With all the modern tech and our ability to clone living things, it seems we are educating ourselves into a stupor. I try to leave the house each day with one thought in my head…. it is what it is so keep it simple.
    Hope you had some enjoyment on your date. You came across as being very stressed. Maybe a nice quiet picnic in the middle of nowhere would be another choice. Keep up the great blog. I truely do enjoy visiting!

    • Wow, what wonderful, thoughtful comments, Barb! You basically said what I’m thinking and so eloquently. I really liked “I feel that if a venue offers up kids menus, they should have some form of entertainment for these kids. It’s like luring in the paying customers under false pretenses just to get cash. You either cater to families with kids of all ages or you don’t.” Totally agree. And I agree even more with “Maybe people should be made to take extensive courses in psychology before marraige and reproducing.” That is really what it comes down to, I think. Most adults seem to not understand the basic psychology and developmental capabilities of children.

      I’m not saying a law needs to be passed to welcome children, but I would just LOVE to see businesses – especially grocery stores, many restaurants and shops cater also to children where we can all enjoy each other’s company in peace. I still understand that some places are nice to be quiet and kid-free, but not the vast majority. Parenthood and especially being a stay-at-home mom is SO isolating because children are not welcome in public spaces.

  2. When my kids were babies, we lived in Austin, Texas, and I can’t tell you how welcoming it was to find that the town published a booklet of kid-friendly restaurants; that booklet contained a ton of Austin restaurants. It meant I didn’t have to feel guilty that half the rice I tried to feed my toddler ended up underneath his highchair. Sure we started tipping more knowing that our presence required a vacuuming afterward, but by knowing that that restaurant was happy we were there, made it okay, meant they placed my children’s food orders as top priority, had toys and crayons, and papers at the ready as normal business policy. It allowed us to go to real restaurants and not just the fast food ones that had the people- sized gerbil tunnels.
    So many UT of Austin graduates settled in Austin and someone realized how important their needs were, and boy, was I thankful!!

  3. You probably will not like my comment, but here goes. I am 73 and the change in children and adult behavior over the past 50 or so years is amazing. Manners are hardly used by most people. Think about last time a door was held for you, what was age of person, bet he/she was not under 30. As for children being allowed to wonder around resturants, talking, yelling loudly. That is just plain rude and I blame the parents more than the child since the child is not taught how to behave in public. Your child is cute, adorable but not when infringing on other people’s space. America is not one of the most courtious places to visit any more and if you look around at some people’s behavior I think you will see why. Now before you get upset and think I am talking to you or you or you, I think most people are nice, maybe even kind, but some times in this busy, electronic world just do not see they are inconsiderate of others. Manners are not old fashioned and I bet when some strasnger does something nice for you you appreciate it. Like charity, manners begin at home and at a young age. I like little children otherwise I would not have taught preschool for 18 years. Went back and read a couple more of the comments. Why do you think others should entertain your children? I hope I did not step on toes and you probably think I am just an old lady complaining. I am not complaining, afterall I still go to the resturants where there are children. I often comment to parents who’s chilren are well behaved, I think they probably appreciate the observation when they have worked to instill manners and respect for others in their children. Of course I donot say anything to the parents of the out of the children who were disrespectful, I figure the police will let them know when the children are teenagers. Take care.

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