As a waitress, I thought children were the pits. It was as if they conducted their entire restaurant visit through a megaphone, which not only blasted out sound but also cold, squashed chips and splodges of purée.
If we staff were lucky, we'd be treated to one or two pint-sized escapees nipping around our ankles as we tried to carry hot coffee across the floor, performing a high-level riverdance in which we were to speedily deliver said coffee, unspilled, and avoid said child.
But it was the parents who were really to blame, of course, and deserved our scorn. They'd show up en masse at the door, a horde of huge, creaking prams between them, smiling hopefully while darting their eyes about to see which area to commandeer completely.
We'd tut among ourselves. "Where the f**k is that pram gonna fit?"
"Is it necessary for table four to move all the chairs like that? It's not a sodding crèche."
"Changing facilities? We're not McDonald's."
I must make something clear at this point: my life was very different then, in my teens and early twenties, to that of current Me. Now, to be fair, I did actually enjoy my work and give a crap about it, but the focus among us staff was still chatting, flirting, lightly mocking the boss/clientele and getting to the end of a shift on 10 espressos while nursing a dark hangover.
Now, as karma would have it, I am often that parent. My two-year-old son is not that quiet in cafes. He does not eat tidily and he gets ants in his pants within two minutes of sitting down. Our pram takes up more space than I would like. How times have changed.
Having my own babies has been like looking in a mirror at my former self, and every time I've been met with service that tuts or rolls eyes -- however subtly -- I think this.
But even more than karma, I see mismanagement and a missed opportunity because, for most cafes, parents are the daytime demographic. I understand that toys and allocated space for the kids, as awesome as they are, may not be possible in all venues, but if cafes make us feel welcome we will come. And spend.
Or so we say.
Because there's another side to this issue. Yes, these days I understand much better what being a mum involves, and karma has bitten my arse many times. But I do think a lot of mums who have been waitresses understand what that involves too, whereas some maybe don't or, if they once did, they have forgotten.
The 'Mess Makers', for instance. Take this comment I read recently on a baby website: "AIBU (am I being unreasonable) not to have tidied up after my kids in a cafe?" The mess in question was chips and pots of baby food.
Yes, YABU. This post brought back so many memories of parents as bad customers: leaving mounds of goo, baby wipes, and bits of food bought both at the establishment and not at the establishment, without any attempt to clean up.
Yes, of course you sometimes have to bring food for your nipper -- I've done it many times -- but for any of the above, at least do that awkward British thing where you try to tidy it up in the hope that the staff will come along and insist it's fine. They generally do this, and if they don't, then maybe it's a further case of mismanagement and all its trappings.
"But I'm a paying customer, I'm entitled to make mess," many might cry. Maybe, but the torrent of negative YABU responses to the post above would, thankfully, suggest otherwise.
Worse than the 'Mess Makers' are the 'Occupiers'. Of space and facilities, that is. These individuals are not known to, you know, buy anything the venue is actually selling. I have seen (sigh) entire groups of people where roughly nine of them -- babes crawling around, the works -- only purchase two coffees. And this phenomenon seems to happen come rain or shine, by the way; cheek and stinginess are not just foul-weather friends. It's important to remember that these venues exist to make a living.
So how to conclude this? Establishments, you want our money; we want your coffee. Let's make this work with some nice manners on both sides.