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Why Gourmet Food and a Table Full of Kids Don't Mix

Oct 13, 2014

Fine dining with children. It's a pairing most of us don't normally like to see together. But the New York Times and Daniel Boulud decided to give it a go by filming six second graders eating a seven-course chef's tasting menu at Daniel, Boulud's famed, two-Michelin-starred restaurant. “The basic goal today for the children,” said head chef Boulud, is “to really discover a lot of flavor, a lot of layers, a lot of texture” and to “experience something maybe very unique for them.”

The video is enchanting, as the children take culinary risks, trying out fish eggs and Wagyu steak and adventurously taking bites of new foods while politely exclaiming, “Ooh, this is strange."

Aspirational parents eager to have a gourmet dining experience with their kids too shared the video all over Facebook.

Since my 7-year-old son is a noted foodie, six different people sent me this video saying something to the effect of "Let's do this!" But there was one unifying characteristic among the people who enthusiastically sent me the video: None of them had children.

Building a child's palate, getting him or her ready for a lifetime of culinary education, expanding his horizons beyond organic, gluten-free chicken nuggets and baby carrot sticks are all lofty goals and worthy ambitions in a first-world way. But there was one important part of the video that non-parents may have overlooked: There were no other patrons in the restaurant. It was completely empty aside from the exuberant and loquacious kids and the very attentive wait staff, chef and camera crew. I'm guessing that was no accident.

Why? Because no other person in her right mind wants to shell out $220 per person for a once-in-a-lifetime luxurious meal while listening to a table full of seven and eight-year olds squeal about caviar, "That's disgusting!" Nor do they want to hear anyone point at her plate and holler, "WHAT IS THAT?!" The most realistic moment of the video came when one little girl nudged her pasta dish and asked, “Why am I eating soap right now?” Even children on their absolute best behavior, like the kids in this video, are still children who are going to get bored, get antsy or get hungry while waiting for the next course.

Here are a few other things notably absent from the video: There were no loud declarations of "Oops!", no glasses knocked over, no gagging noises heard and no bites taken with the food immediately spit back onto the plate. No one was kicking anyone under the table, nor were any kids sitting sideways in their chairs. No one was whining and no one insisted on washing his hands after each course in order to spend 12 minutes playing with the sink like it was the latest attraction at Dave & Buster's. It was dining with children in the white-washed bubble of really good editing.

In short: Don't try this yourselves, fellow parents.

I'm not saying don't take your children to five-star restaurants. I'm saying don't take six children (or even two for that matter) to a five-star restaurant, because that's a recipe for a headache for you, other diners and the wait staff. Remember, there's no editing in real life and you're going to be the one Googling how to remove Kobe-beef-in-port-reduction-sauce stains from cashmere when someone's fork "accidentally" flies across the room.

(I know what kind of table manner horrors my second grader can exhibit. Although, I'm sure your child is a perfect angel, who would never accidentally spill a glass of red wine across four entrees or test out his fork-catapult skills at the table like mine did.)

That said, I've taken my son to white table cloth establishments and might even do it again with some parameters detailed below. My son loves food and after his school focused an entire lunch year on "risk taking" at the table, a generous friend invited him to a swanky five-star restaurant for the five-course tasting menu. One kid, one restaurant. That's doable, right? Well, sort of.

My son was thrilled at the invitation and arrived at the upscale French seafood restaurant's first seating in a suit and tie, quickly charming the entire staff while ordering a Shirley Temple at the bar and waiting politely for his seat.

He dutifully studied the menu, picking some safe-yet-adventurous variations on the most unobtrusive items such as salmon and steak. The "amuse bouche" was suitably amusing, but as the minutes ticked past, the excitement dimmed. After the first course he was already ogling my phone hoping for a Minecraft fix while waiting for his entree. He lasted a few courses before a few words (read: threats) were necessary to coax him out from under the table where he had retreated after sitting nicely at the table for 90 minutes (roughly a vast eternity of nothingness in 7-year old time.) The arrival of dessert at the two-hour mark got him back on track, but waiting for the check proved too much and he collapsed on the bench seat, exhausted, whining and ready to be carried out of the dining room. I felt exactly the same way.

Would I do it again with one child? Sure, as long as I got the wine pairing and got rid of the whole no-cell-phones-at-the-table rule.

Would I take more than one child to an upscale restaurant? Not for all the wine pairings in the world.

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