Dear GMM,

Recently we were away, and at one of the restaurants at the hotel—upscale but not five-star—was a family of four including two pre-teen boys. The boys were sitting there watching a football game on a tablet, with the sound on. At what age is using a tablet like that at a restaurant not acceptable?

George H.

Dear George,

The short and easy answer is never.

It is never okay to have any sort of sound playing from a tablet (or a phone) at a restaurant. And, yes, this includes having it play out of headphones that are being worn and thus being mostly silent to the rest of the patrons. I would go so far as to say that if you’re at one of those restaurants that actually hands tablets to the kids for them to use, it’s still probably not a good idea to have the sound on.

The longer answer involves the difficult navigation of whether the tablet (or smartphone) is ever okay at a restaurant table… or perhaps any table.

Parents, understandably, would like to have the ability to get just a few moments peace and quiet on a daily basis, to be able to converse with one another as they used to prior to their children coming along. Lord knows I’d like it quiet for just a few minutes. Dinner seems like a potentially likely time for that nice chat, and while in your home it may be, it isn’t when you’re outside the house.
This advice column isn’t about parenting and offering parenting advice to anyone – people have to operate in the way they feel is the best for their situation… to a point. That is to say, what you do in your house is something very much tends to be your business. What you do in public, however, is everyone’s business.

So, I may personally believe that children shouldn’t have tablets at the table ever because it doesn’t help them learn how to behave appropriately, but that is not why I argue that it’s a bad thing at a restaurant. My belief about the inside the house portion of the issue is not germane. Actually, there are wholly different issues at work.

You see, when you sit your child in front of a tablet at a restaurant, you’re being rude not just to the other patrons, but—more importantly—to the waiters and busboys and manager(s) and host/hostess and everyone in the kitchen. What you’re saying is that the food is unimportant, that the décor is unimportant, that the people serving you are unimportant. The important thing is that your child shuts up and shovels the food in.

That may not be what you mean to say, but it is exactly what you’re saying.

That is why the tablet and the phone are not acceptable pacifiers at a restaurant – it has nothing to do with your desire for a quiet and peaceful meal. Your rights end where someone else’s begins, and with that tablet out for your children, you’re trampling all over the people who are serving you.

So, there you have it – never should the sound be on because you’re actively disturbing every single person within earshot, and the tablet is inappropriate anyway.

Huh, I guess I could have just left it at the short answer.

Hoping the meal was delicious,

Good Media Manners

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