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A Restaurant In Georgia Charges For ‘Unruly’ Kids. What Does That Even Mean?

A little surcharge goes a long way.

Young girl devours a hamburger loaded with fries and ketchup, while her brothers finish their lunch
Peter Cade/ Ascent Xmedia/Photodisc/Getty Images

A small-town restaurant in rural Georgia has found itself the subject of headlines nationwide over its unique policy that hits parents with a $50 surcharge if their children act like children while dining at their eatery.

Last week, news reports over Toccoa Riverside Restaurant’s “adult surcharge” went national after a Reddit debate got heated and went viral. According to the Reddit thread, the restaurant adds a $50 surcharge on the bills of tables whose kids didn’t behave at the establishment, a policy that’s been in place since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The policy is printed on the top of the restaurant’s menu as an “adult surcharge for parents unable to parent,” though no dollar amount is listed.

Then, TODAY.com spoke with parents who got charged with it. Lyndsey and Kyle Landmann visited the restaurant with their kids and four other family groups — there were 11 kids at their table, all between the ages of 3 and 8. At the end of their meal, they were slapped with the $50 surcharge.

"The kids were sitting at one end of the table, and they were being so good," Lyndsey told the publication. "I even commented halfway through the meal, 'I can't believe how well-behaved they are.' "

But not everyone thought the kids were well-behaved. After dessert, when some of the parents and kids went outside, Lyndsey was approached by the restaurant owner, Tim Richter.

"He has the menu in hand, and he's showing us where it talks about the fee," she recalled. "At first, I thought he was going to compliment us and be like, 'But you won't be charged because your kids were so well-behaved.' " Instead, she was told their bill would include the $50 surcharge because their kids were being "too loud," and because they were "running around outside."

Lyndsey was confused and said she told Richter that the kids were all well-behaved, but that seemed to escalate things. "I was like, 'They were quiet the whole time.' He got in our faces and told us that we belonged at Burger King and not at his restaurant. We asked to speak to the owner, and he said he was the owner."

She continued, "I looked around the restaurant, and everybody was frozen watching this show he was putting on. He was yelling. It was alarming."

Every parent knows that kids can be loud. And a group dining with 11 kids and several adults is probably going to stand out in any restaurant. But even if the kids were being awful, and mom was wrong, does that justify the surcharge?

Dear reader, here’s what we say: Nope!

It’s already challenging to take kids out to dinner, especially when they’re young and practically designed to wiggle and walk about. Many parents shun dining out at restaurants for the first several years of their kids' lives altogether; they’d rather not spend a whole meal worried about how they’re going to persuade their kids to sit still and keep their volume levels reasonable. Parents don’t like to stand out, and we’re all acutely aware that how our kids behave in public will be judged — and that the parents themselves will be judged even harder.

But here’s the thing: We’re darned if we do and if we don’t. If we never took our kids out into the real world with us, we’d get criticized when our kids lacked the skills needed to navigate public spaces as they got older. And when we do take them out and they act like respectful kids — yes, even if they need to be redirected a few times and reminded to use their indoor voice we’re prepared for a few sideways glances, but a monetary penalty?

None of us — parents on kid-free date nights, child-free adults, or other families walking through public life — are entitled to never experience public inconvenience. You won't find a magical world where kids are invisible. Kids are people too, and you’re going to encounter them when in family-friendly spaces like most restaurants.

If you don’t want to be around kids, there are loads of places that are explicitly kid-free, like bars and many restaurants, in fact. We know that not everyone wants to be seated next to a rowdy family or be asked to savor a meal while some parent has to remind their toddler not to eat food off the floor several times. And that’s okay. If a restaurant wants to be for adults only, that’s fine!

Most parents of young kids are exquisitely self-conscious when they’re out in public spaces, fully invested in trying to get their toddlers to act like people whose prefrontal cortexes are fully developed. Either accept families at your restaurant tables, or ban them outright. Don’t play the middle — it makes everyone unhappy.