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Should Kids Wear Sweats and Tees in Nice Restaurants?

Erin Zammett Ruddy


I realize this is a controversial kidetiquette question, but I'm curious to hear your thoughts. I've been seeing a lot of dressing down in places where dressing up would be much more appropriate. I don't think I'd ever allow my children into a fancy restaurant the way some kids roll in. But maybe I'm being harsh?


Nick and I were in a very nice restaurant recently (candlelight, lots of things I couldn’t pronounce on the menu, a glass of wine cost $12) pretty late (we arrived at 8 p.m.) and a few minutes after we were seated, a group that had three youngish kids—two tweens and probably an eight year old—walked in. And the kids were wearing tee shirts (one was a middle school track tee) and short gym shorts and flip-flops. My first reaction: Why are there kids at this place? My second: What the $%#! are they wearing? Now before you think I sound holier than thou, let me say that I’m not picking on this particular family. Who knows? Maybe they were docked on one of the yachts in the harbor nearby and their real clothes blew overboard. Maybe they lost their luggage at the airport and were just plain starving and there were no available tables at the 15 casual joints down the road. I don’t know. But it got me thinking about kids and restaurants and how I want my own brood to approach the experience.

I should back up first. Nick and I don’t take our kids out to nice restaurants or any restaurants if we can help it (we like to taste our food, enjoy adult conversation and not have to take poop breaks while paying top dollar for a meal), but I get that there are times when it’s unavoidable. Or even when it’s desirable. At 5, Alex has gotten to a point where he can generally handle himself in public and the kid loves good food so I look forward to taking him out for special occasions. But they will be just that: special. And I can guarantee he won’t be wearing his glow-in-the-dark skeleton sweatshirt when we go. He’ll be sporting his “handsome” clothes, which, fortunately, he loves to wear. I'm not saying kids should be expected to rock prom attire but making a little more effort than shorts and tees seems appropriate, no? We're talking about upscale restaurants here, not a place you might grab a bite on your way home from baseball practice. 

I did not grow up going out to eat at fancy restaurants on a regular basis. My parents went out a lot and we got left behind. As it should be, if you ask me. But when we found ourselves at a respectable establishment, we always looked, well, respectable. We dressed nice and we got excited and we knew that we were doing something that we didn’t get to do all the time. I still feel that way about going out to eat (when I lived in New York City and had no kids, I admit I got jaded by the restaurant experience but boy do I know how special it is to have someone else cook for you and clean it up now). I also find myself scratching my head with the way some adults—men, mostly—dress in nice restaurants. Which is another story I suppose. But we were at place recently that is downright posh and the entire family was in sweats. I just worry about what message that would send to my kids. You better believe if I’m buying you a $45 steak*, you will have your shirt tucked in and that shirt will not say "I’m With Stupid" (note: we do not own a shirt that says I’m With Stupid). Believe me, my kids look homeless half the time and we all know how little I brush Nora’s hair, but when it’s necessary I can spiff them up. And I do.

I’m sure this is going to ruffle some feathers and I don’t mean to go on a rant but this is one of the rare parenting calls that I feel very strongly about: If we are allowing my kids to join us in a nice restaurant, they will know that it is special and they will dress accordingly.

How do you guys feel about this? Do you take your kids out to eat at upscale eateries? Ever see kids in posh places looking like they just left the soccer field? Let's discuss.