Babies + restaurants = unavoidable mess. But who should be responsible for cleaning it up? Jenny Wood enters a very sticky debate...
Crawling around on the floor of a restaurant the other day on my hands and knees, picking up soggy rice cakes, half-sucked grapes and splats of 'yummy' chicken with noodles, I saw the waitress giving me a funny look.
When I sat back up - as my one-year-old launched a bread stick missile at my head - she came over and explained. "We have mums with messy babies in here all the time," she said, "but they never clear up – that's really kind of you."
I was surprised. I'm usually mortified at the scene of total devastation my son manages to wreak every time we eat out, particularly as the food splattered all over the floor is stuff I've brought with me.
I hate the thought of someone else having to do it when we leave (and cursing me under their breath) so I always use napkins to pick everything up and clear the table down with wipes before we go.
I thought most other mums were the same – until a week later, in an M&S cafe, when I overheard a woman with a baby at a nearby table having an argument about the service with one of the waitresses.
When she left, she'd given a new meaning to the phrase 'dirty protest' – it was as if there had been an explosion in a puree factory. The table and highchair were coated in mush and mixed with puddles of milk for good measure.
The mess was so bad the waitress called other staff over to take a look before cleaning it up. "It's gross, but it happens all the time," one shrugged.
I decided to do some research. As one of the more family-friendly restaurant chains, Pizza Express provides high chairs, baby changing facilities and is the kind of place you can go with your little one and not worry about being given the evil eye if you stay long after you've eaten your meal.
So you'd think most mums would be particularly helpful to the staff in return – it seems not.
"I dread mums coming in," confessed Jo, one waitress I spoke to, who works in a branch she didn't wish to name for obvious reasons.
"They arrive in big groups in the afternoon, and expect you to find room for their buggies, provide them with highchairs, and warm up their babies' food. Then they stay for hours nursing a single coffee and cake.
"I love babies, so none of that would matter if it wasn't for the fact they nearly always leave the place looking like a bomb has hit it and they hardly ever tip. It's gotten to the stage that if one of us is manning the door, we try not to sit them in our section!"
When you talk to parents though, it's a different story. Asking for people's comments on the subject on Facebook, 99VIRTUAL-Gallery-183104%