Monday, December 31, 2012

Battling the brats: a resurgence of etiquette instruction

Posted By on Mon, Dec 31, 2012 at 9:43 AM

The menu note that rocked the world

Early this year, I wrote a post about Grant Central Pizza's menu request that customers "tend to their crying tots outside." The rule was instated because of customer complaints - many on Yelp - about unruly young 'uns.

My two-paragraph post quite literally prompted an international debate. It seems there's a highly organized global network of young jihadists sworn to disrupt restaurant dining rooms in America. They carry toys under their clothes and, without notice, hurl them at defenseless adults while screaming, "Death to your fuckin' manners!" Sometimes they storm tables, laying their hands on them, staring at the startled diners.

Now there is hope, according to a piece in the New York Times, "Eat, Drink, Be Nice," by Matt Richtel. The article starts with a description of an upscale restaurant, Chenery Park, which hosts "family night" every Tuesday. The objective in part is to help parents teach their children proper dining etiquette. The owner patrols the dining room for inappropriate behavior, apparently playing lion tamer.

Of course, this is voluntary. I doubt the parents at Grant Central - or anywhere else in our city - would patronize such an event. Well, maybe members of the 1 percent would.

The article goes on to describe a network of etiquette and manners teachers across the country. Most of the instruction involves dining at some point. Believe it or not, the new "charm schools" employ "ecological psychology," a specialty of criminologists. (I told you those kids are terrorists.) Their idea is that "when an environment is dilapidated, it gives permission to people to misbehave." Thus a fancy restaurant supposedly inspires better behavior automatically - including parents. (Disclaimer: Grant Central, where I eat frequently, is not delapidated!)

I thought this especially interesting:

[One teacher] believes that teaching manners to children has grown more challenging, and necessary, in part because of technology.

"Kids have stopped making eye contact at one another," Ms. Neitlich said. "They bring their technology to the table. She added that it is true of parents, too: "Everyone is in a hurry. Things are clipped, clipped, clipped."

Interesting. At - where else? - Grant Central the other night, I watched a family with two kids dining quietly. One of the kids, maybe 7, was playing chess on an iPad. Another was scrolling on an iPhone. A brief argument broke out. Then the kids exchanged devices and things calmed down.

Is this different from handing a kid a coloring book at the table?

Read the article, for real.

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