Messy Kids and Restaurant Etiquette

Messy Kids and Restaurant Etiquette

It is no secret that children can create food messes that even Oscar the Grouch would admire. I imagine that many servers and bussers dread having tables with small children who seem to love to throw spaghetti and spit out veggies, but I was surprised when I saw this warning on a restaurant menu in northern Arizona.

Should restaurants charge for messy kids?

I will clean up our table and even the floor a bit if my kiddos make a big mess in a restaurant. But I have been stopped by bussers and servers who have told me, “Please do not worry about it, that is my job.”  I giggled a little when I saw this warning because it seemed so unusual and ridiculous to me. I snapped this picture with my cellphone and sent it to a few friends whose responses ranged from “That is why I go out – to avoid clean-up” to “No f-ing way!”  So it got me thinking, what do most moms think about this policy? Is it a good idea or is it poor customer relations? How would a restaurant go about determining if a mess was fee-worthy?  Would a warning like this make you hyper-vigilant about the mess your kiddos were making? I also wonder if they would ever charge a clean-up fee for a messy adult.

So what are your thoughts on this? Do you clean-up after your children in a restaurant?  What would you do if you were charged a $5 clean-up fee at a restaurant?

Feel free to leave a comment.  Share and let’s talk about it.

About Janice

I am so glad you stopped by. Kick your shoes off and hang with me a while. I am an Arizona native, wife to a hard-working hubby, mom of two, and daughter of the King. I love sharing recipes, crafts, and family activities that any mom can do. Life is complicated enough, right? When I am not up to my ears in laundry, dishes, and creating for Celebrating Family, you will also find me at East Valley Mom Guide. Come follow me on Google +, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter.


  1. Honestly, I would have packed up my family and left. While I do attempt to pick up after my children– and like you, I’m usually told “Don’t worry about it!”– I would be too worried that any restaurant ignorant enough to make such a statement would be mean enough to find fault no matter what and assess the extra charge. I prefer to do business with people who are family friendly.

    • Hi Annette although I agree with you on the fact that restaurants should be family friendly. As a restaurant’s owner you have to understand why many restaurant’s are not happy about messes being made. Just recently we have a family of 6 come in and the kids made a mess. This process took over 40 minutes to clean and none of the servers were happy about this experience because they could have spent that time helping other customers thus, making for tips.

    • in many instances waiters dont mind the mess as long as there are tips from the parents acknowledging that a mess was made waiters dont mind that at all… But when a family makes a huge mess and leaves $0 as a tip what does that say about them?

  2. I agree with Annette…I would leave. We also pick up after our child (even if it means getting under the table sometimes). unfortunately, my husband nor myself have ever been stopped by staff and told us to not worry about it. Around here they just smile and walk by. If our daughter is tired/cranky/fussy/etc I have no problem leaving (if I’m by myself) and leaving the mess, however, I always leave extra for a tip. I guess I factor in my own “clean up” fee.

  3. I would not eat at a place like that. Restaurants have employees for a reason. What job are the bus boys doing if not cleaning up after us? NO I do not allow my kids to leave a mess, and I DO think it’s rude to do so.. but that restaurant is out of their mind lol.

    • I’m a waiter, let me tell you, my job is take your order, bring your food, refill your drinks. I don’t like to serve tables with kids for this reason, people think that we are supposed to clean your kids mess and WE ARE NOT. 90% don’t care and I wonder all the time, are they like this at home? Maybe is wrong the 5 dollar charge, but I think it would be great if every restaurant tell the customers to clean their kids mess

  4. I usually clean up after my kiddo but have had the same experience as you where they stop me and say don’t worry about it… and we “tip” them more because of it!!But if I were charged for the mess I probably wouldn’t eat there…

  5. I don’t know what mess would “cross the line” and force a fee to be charged. We probably left some messes in our day (kids now 12 and 15) and I am not sure I was as diligent as the other commenters here but in general the $5 shows a non-customer-centric approach I think. That would be my last and only meal there, kids or no.

  6. I would leave. It’s rude to state that on a menu. The idea of going out is to get a break. I assume it was created due to ignorant parents who probably don’t teach their children manners and act like complete pigs when in public which shouldn’t be ok either. Personally though I would leave.

  7. Debra Wagner says

    OMG really? I would make an ever bigger mess and see if they could get the $5.00 clean up fee from me, then never go back! But of course when my kids were little I did clean up a little, I still do it now when I frequent a restaurant with my hubby!

  8. Christy Scott says

    I actually won’t and rather to leave because it’s a restaurant so meaning waitresses are responsible to clean the mess because eating outside is a break and why would consider cleaning up?

    • so in your opinion you have no respect towards the staff or for the place, just because its their job to do, which is not! thats really rude and abnormal.

  9. I used to bus tables in high school so I’ve dealt with my share of messes, and I’m always careful to clean up after my kid. That being said, this is WAY out of line. I’d let them know that they just lost my business.

  10. I wouldn’t eat there. I go out so I don’t have to clean up. Their loss because I consider the increase in the tip as part of the cost of being a parent. Guess I will leave my bigger tip elsewhere.

  11. I tip a lot to make up for the mess my kids make. And, my husband usually picks up while I”m getting everyone ready to go. I’d be super upset if I saw something like that. It would be the last time I set foot in that place.

  12. I would have just let them know that as long as they charge it they do not have my business, this coming from a mother who also feels bad leaving messes and will clean up and even straighten up the messy table…As those have said above that is what their job entails and to try and charge extra just seems like a way to try and bring in more income as they decide if the mess is worth charging (which you know it will be no matter how little the mess).

  13. Not too long ago, my friend and I were eating at a family style restaurant where there was a large group seated near us (about 4 or 5 adults and the same amount of kids, 2 being in high chairs). The kids were let to throw tantrums, food etc. At least one couple at the restaurant complained and they wait staff asked them to keep their kids in line more or less… this still went on. After they left the entire table was horrible! There was food all over the floor, stuck under the table (as the one child thought it was funny to smack their mashed potatoes to the underside of the table), in the seats, all over the high chairs. I watched as 3 bussers had to clean up the mess which involved tipping the table upside down and using a scrub brush to get into the cracks on the chairs.. all in all taking them a good 10 minutes. I walked past the table to use the restroom… they left a 10 dollar tip.
    So, in a way I think that something like this is a good idea. However, I agree that there is a line- how much of a “mess” is bill worthy? I heard about a restaurant who did something different and put signs up that anyone with screaming kids would be asked to leave. There was an uproar over it with people with kids, however it ended up that they actually gained customers because people who wouldn’t go there because of all of the kids were starting to come in more.

  14. If it is my favourite restaurant I would still eat there. I’m sure the restaurant had a good reason to put that warning on their menu. And hopefully only apply the charge in extreme situations. It’s okay to eat at restaurants to get a break from preparing a meal, but there are people that have terrible restaurant manners and pass these on to their children. I have walked out of places where children were running wild and flinging food while their parents sat and laughed at the behaviour. Being paid to clean up after restaurant customers is one thing, but to be stuck cleaning one table for a long time because parents have allowed children to trash the area on purpose is wrong.

  15. I own a restaurant and just today had to deal with one of the largest messes we’ve ever had. It was at least 45 minutes of clean up after the family of 3 adults and 2 children left. They had smashed pasta into the carpet, spilled Italian dressing on the floor, spilled crushed up crackers all over, tore up straw papers and threw them down. My servers were super busy with other tables and did not notice the mess until the family got up to leave. Granted, we do charge a gratuity of 18% on parties of 6 or more (including children who are old enough to eat off of the kids menu), this party was short or being able to add the grat. They left my server a $2 tip! My server and I spent a great while cleaning up the tables, chairs and floor and had to hand pick the food up because the vacuum wouldn’t have picked up wet lettuce or the dressing! Now I have to shampoo carpets tonight because if we shampoo them now and someone steps into the wet spot and then onto our tile, more than likely someone is going to get injured and we are on the line for that, too. So YES, I think the restaurant has every right to charge that $5 or even more! Just because you go out to eat doesn’t mean you should let your kids throw food all over! I know kids spill, so do adults, but how many adults do you see putting gum under the tables, throwing smashed up crackers all over the floor? If you don’t allow it in your home, don’t allow it in public!

    • I completely agree with that last sentence! I am baffled by this sort of behavior. I feel the same about people who leave behind garbage in a movie theater. Clean up after yourself!

    • we ALWAYS clean up after our kids. A server and or bus person isn’t supposed to be picking up piles of food and mess. They are clearing a table. And I tell my kids that as we stack plates and clean up any debris on the table. Although my kids haven’t ever not once been allowed to make a mess like that. We wouldn’t tolerate it

      I’ve been a waitress. 🙂 I don’t see a restaurant- any restaurant –
      As a place to trash and have someone else pick up

      And we tip well when a waitress or waiter is attentive. Always. Kids tend to have extra requests and if people are kind and attentive to us we show appreciation

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  17. I absolutely do clean up after my kids when we go out to eat. It’s the mom in me. I think the restaurants have every right to charge more when kids come in and make a huge mess.

  18. I think I would prefer to see a reward based system something like one free kids meal for well behaved children. With such reasonably priced kids meal offering and know that some people just don’t care and so their kids do what they will they have probably had cleaning fees to get out the spaghetti or squished to the floor grilled cheese that far exceeded the price of the meal. I am going to venture a guess that most people working at this location are in some way related to the owner and probably don’t make a heck of a lot of money.

  19. It is rude to put that fee in place, but not more rude than leaving thrown food on the floor and all over the furniture. The restaurant should just refuse service to them in the future, not threaten everyone with a fee.

  20. Wow that is crazy! I have never seen anything like that. I probably wouldn’t go there, not because my kids are messy or that they have bad etiquette but that does not sound kid friendly.

  21. Angela S says

    I always tidy up a bit before we leave, but that is downright rude. I wouldn’t give that place my business.

  22. WOW! While I think that kids should be respectable when in public places, restaurant or wherever – this is a little absurd. I mean, drop a few fries on the floor and there’s a charge?! I know some adults that are way messier than kids, so insulting to the younger people!

  23. I used to waitress at Baker’s Square and we had to bus our own tables — there were no busboys to clean up after anyone. I remember staying late many times scraping ground-in crackers off of the carpet because people’s kids were so messy. I had to dump out drinks that had random food in it. There would be butter and sauce just everywhere… I actually gagged a few times… so, I think parents should definitely not let their kids be total slobs at a restaurant. I bet you this note was due to some really extreme cases!

    • Yikes! Some people are so rude. I always try to clean up after my kids.

    • It’s your job to clean up. If you do not like it, find another job.. I guarantee if you were working in that restaurant, by the time my kids and I were done eating, $5 for clean up would not help you much a food would be everywhere.

  24. A cleaning fee? That’s crazy! When I take my child to a restaurant, I always clean up after him!

  25. that is SUPER rude of that brand. Have you called them at all about it? kids are kids and they spill things. And yes, there will be SOME parents that leave a HUGE stinking mess but most will at least pick up a little bit. And I’ve seen teenagers AND adults leave bigger messes. Wow. Having a hard time even believing a brand would do this if you hadn’t snapped that photo! 🙂

  26. There is no way that I would eat there with a $5 cleanup fee. I would walk out of their restaurant as soon as I read that notice!

  27. That is the oddest thing I have ever heard of before in my life! i have mixed feeling about this.

  28. I think it’s a great idea, but hard to enforce. Unfortunately, some adults let children behave like that at home and never clean up the mess. Sad!

  29. I always clean up after my kids and pre-bus my table. I can’t believe they’d charge for those who don’t, though!

  30. I wonder what had to happen in the restaurant for them to implement this policy? I have never seen anything like that before.

  31. I almost always clean up after my kids, even when they were wee ones, but I still am not quiet sure I am okay with them tacking on $5 if I didn’t… now, if they wanted to take $5 off for my doing it; That I would be okay with

  32. I’d have to say it depends on what they mean by clean up. If they mean a little mess on the table then no, adults can have that happen as well. If they mean purposely made messes out of the ordinary the children should have been taught to know better and it shouldn’t even be necessary to say.

  33. I would totally leave that’s rude. We always clean up and leave an extra tip with the kiddos because they do make messes. We don’t eat out often so this would be horrible to see when our family just wants to treat themselves to a meal!

  34. Ann Bacciaglia says

    Wow, I have never seen a restaurant say they are going to charge if you leave a mess. I honestly don’t know what to say. I think I would leave the restaurant.

  35. If they actually felt the need to charge me the $5, I figure I probably warranted it. But honestly, I’d probably vacuum the floor myself for them before I agreed to pay it.

  36. As a server I still think this is wrong. If my kid throws something or makes a huge mess I will help them clean up, but I always tip more too… So seriously what is this world coming to?

  37. I was a waitress for years so I always make sure to clean up after my kids. I clean up the floor and straighten the table to make their lives easier. BUT, I would not eat at a place that wanted to charge me extra if my kids made a mess. And while I would be annoyed having to clean up after a huge mess a kid made, that was my job.

  38. That is crazy and I would not be eating there. I too will tidy up if they make a big mess but it’s NOT our job and I don’t got to a restaurant to clean up. I can’t believe that.

  39. No way in hell would I be doing the cleaning. I go out to eat with kids so I don’t have to deal with it at home. If I saw that sign I would encourage my kids to make a mess. I guarantee you that by the time we left, that $5 that they charge would be well worth it for me as they would spend long time cleaning our mess I would also leave them a nice Yelp review.

  40. I appreciate the part where you mentioned that you clean up after your kids’ mess whenever you eat out in the restaurant. We haven’t brought our son with us when we eat out and we’re only scheduled to do so next weekend. Maybe I should plan ahead and find some restaurants that are kid-friendly before bringing him with us.

  41. can the resturant charge you extra money for kids creating mess .. one of the resturant in michigan charged us $200 for kids creating mess.