“The waitress came by every day, at least two or three times, talking to our daughter, making a huge deal about what a ‘great eater’ she is, how ‘good’ she is for eating all her food and cleaning her plate. My daughter just seemed so confused and didn’t say much. By day four of our trip, I was ready to scream. We’ve been working so hard on helping her with her food obsession and healing from her history of food insecurity, and trying hard to let her know that it’s okay to leave food on your plate and you don’t have to eat everything.”
This was shared with me during a recent call with an adoptive mom of a little girl who had a pretty rough start with malnutrition due to not having enough food (food insecurity), and a food obsession that is just starting to turn around with a lot of effort. I commiserated and laughed, asking if she had read my recent Huffington Post piece (coauthored with an amazing mom and colleague Katherine Zavodni MPH, RD who works in eating disorders) on the seeming trend of servers and children’s menus increasingly inserting themselves into the feeding relationship between the parent and child. It was called, perhaps too strongly worded, “Hey, Servers, Leave Those Kids Alone!” and the comments were so nasty that I had to stop reading and responding. (One accused me of making it all up.)
Among the many comments I did read, several parents and servers said it never happens and expressed incredulity (that’s putting it nicely.) I wondered if this was a regional experience? Did I only notice it because of the work I do? Did it only happen to myself and colleagues who often ask for dessert with the meal, inviting commentary? So I sent out a mini informal survey, and here is some of what we learned:
- some parents never hear any comments (heaven!)
- some parents get comments most of the time, and don’t mind
- some parents get comments most of the time and do mind
- some parents are actually asking the serving staff to get involved, to not share certain menu items, and to praise or encourage children with their eating
Here are some quotes (or skip to the end for a few ideas on how to stop or neutralize comments from servers) :
We have noticed that over the past couple of years the comments by food servers has increased. Our current “favorite” is the big high-five to Max for ordering a fruit cup.
I live in Miami, FL and even though I don’t have children, I have overheard servers commenting to other tables where there are children. Not every time, but I would say maybe 1/2 the time when we go out to eat. Mostly it’s of the “you have to eat your vegetables so you’ll grow up to be big and strong like daddy!” or “what a good girl not to want dessert so you stay skinny and pretty!”
I have had servers comment about my plate and eating. For example, if I don’t want dessert, they’ll say I’m being so good. Or if I don’t finish my vegetables they’ll make a joke about not being allowed to have dessert. I am an overweight woman, so perhaps they feel justified in commenting on my eating. I know I feel justified in calling them out on their rudeness!
I live in the rural southeast. The only comment servers ever make is asking if my kids are finished with their plate before they take it away or asking if we want a to-go box. There is one Mexican restaurant that we like and the servers always express admiration that my 6 yr. old will eat the spicy red sauce, but they are never critical of my son who does not eat it.
I live in the northeast, suburban area, and I’ve never had this happen to me.
No one has ever said that to us, but if they did they would wish they hadn’t.
We have gotten the “You’re a good eater” comment when my son eats all his food. They then comment on how skinny he is. Or, when he orders an adult size,they insist on the kids size because they assume he wont eat it all. We have also had servers automatically add fried to our son’s order, and we don’t eat them. He orders fruit instead and some servers comment “your parents must be strict.” In front of us of course.
Not too common here. Parents tend to give lots of feedback if anyone polices their parenting. I am in NY.
This trend of parents pulling aside servers to ask them to only offer the choices they want their child to have may be why some servers have started to comment, urge ‘healthy’ options, etc.
Never happened to me. But my friends have and it makes me mad.
Not sure if others have eluded to this but I think it’s also on our radar more bc we are aware of it. Also things like asking for dessert with the meal and ordering off the adult menu for kids may elicit more unsolicited feedback from servers in and of itself.
Yes – I’ve also noticed this in the twin cities. I usually use the “knowing look” approach with my kids – smile and wink at them, so they know it is a-okay.
Get comments all the time about how my 1 & 3 year old eat all their veggies and fruit and don’t like dessert… We live in the Twin Cities. Honestly, it’s nothing my husband or I have done (we just offer many types of food), it is just my kiddos preference… I cannot think of a time we haven’t gotten some commentary.
I’m from South Africa and totally amazed to hear that waitering staff make comments. You would never get that here.
What do you think? Our request in the original post to servers was this: “Parenting styles differ, and feeding styles do as well — these are personal decisions every parent makes. We simply ask, as your customers, that you allow us to make those decisions for our own families and to keep the commentary to yourself.” Is that too much to ask?
BTW, for the mom at the resort, it’s perfectly okay (even if you don’t like conflict) to leave the table and speak with a server in private. I am sure the server thought she was helping and doesn’t understand. Try something like, “I know you are trying to be kind, but we would really appreciate if you didn’t comment on what or how much our child eats. Thanks so much.” You don’t need to explain or apologize. Usually with only one meal out, it’s not worth the time and effort, but that’s up to you.
I have a whole section in my book, Love Me, Feed Me on dealing with meddlers For waitstaff, I usually cut off comments with something like:
“We’re doing fine here..”
“Of course we ate all the broccoli, it was delicious!”
“That’s silly, we don’t have to eat all our dinner before we enjoy dessert. Could you bring it now please?”