Photo: AnnaNahabed (iStock), Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio
The Salty WaitressSalty Waitress is The Takeout’s advice column from a real-life waitress that will teach you how not to behave like a garbage person while dining out—and maybe in real life.  

Dear Salty: Fellow server here. Our restaurant has a kids’ menu for 12-and-unders, and I swear as I get older, I’m getting worse at judging the ages of young people. I feel like some parents are trying to put one over on me by ordering off of the kids’ menu for their teenagers, who are almost obviously too old for the kids’ menu (we also do a kids-under-12-eat-free on Tuesdays).  

What should I do in such a case? I hate to confront them because, what if I’m wrong and the kid is just tall? On the other hand, it bugs me thinking about cheapskate parents (which results in a lesser tip for me). Any Salty advice gratefully appreciated! 

Flummoxed

Dear Flummoxed,

Does it help you to know that you’re not alone? In fact, I just read about a sushi restaurant in Toronto that actually measured an 11-year-old girl to see if she qualified for the kids’ menu (their cutoff is 60 inches). This seems extreme. I thought Canada was supposed to be nice!

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One of my favorite roles I play in life, when I’m not taking your breakfast order, is as Aunt Salty. I have tremendously tall nieces and nephews (my sister insisted on marrying a basketball coach). My own 11-year-old niece is going to pass me up in height by next summer, and she’s extremely self-conscious about it. I haven’t done the “look-how-tall-you’re-getting” routine in years. I can only imagine that f she was asked to prove her age, she would be humiliated, just like that girl in Toronto.

Do I think that some parents are trying to put one over on you by trying to get their kids a cheaper meal after the kids are technically too old? I mean, in a perfect world, of course not—but I’ve seen enough on the other side of the counter to know that people are capable of all sorts of things. (Ask me about the time someone ran out with a bottle of ketchup.) Maybe those parents are just broke. Or the teen doesn’t have a big appetite. Personally, I would not begrudge them saving a few bucks. Hopefully what you lose in a potentially lesser tip, you’re making up for in repeat business from that family. Most restaurant disputes end with “the customer is always right”—ha!—because management knows it’s easier to satisfy a customer than to argue the point. Is the kids’ menu really the hill you want to die on?

But if you want to go harder-edge, you have a few options. First, talk to your restaurant manager about the official kids’ menu policy. If your boss wants to play bad cop and start carding kids (who don’t normally carry around ID), they can go ahead—but I think that’s dumb. You can also pop the question on the kid or their parents: “What’s Junior’s birthday?” but it’s hard to pull that off, even in a playful manner. My sister frequently gets grilled on how old her kids are when boarding public transit, because humans become paying passengers after the age of seven where we live, and the reduced fare stops at 11. But no one’s really in hot water for serving up a smaller plate of chicken nuggets, right?

Here’s what Ol’ Salty would do: Suck it up, buttercup. Parents say their kid is 11? Believe them. What are you out, $3? Your job as a server is to create an enjoyable-enough experience where they’ll keep coming back, maybe tell their friends. If you’re gonna be a dick about a kid, go into another business. It’s hospitality, babe.

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In fact, I think this is a self-solving problem. Most of the tweens I know in my gang of relatives are in the middle of huge growth spurts. My 10-year-old nephew can’t even be contained by the kids’ menu anymore, and now orders an adult burger. So unless this youngster at your table has a visible 5 o’clock shadow, they may be telling the truth. Here’s a decent barometer I like to use: Can you picture this person driving a car? If so, they’re probably past the kids’ menu point, and you’d be safe saying so. If not, take down that nugget order.