As Steve DiMillo walked through his restaurant on Portland’s waterfront Monday, he pointed out children who were dining quietly with their parents or coloring as they waited for lunch to arrive. Children and restaurants aren’t always such a peaceful mix.

The day before, his staff had to move a family to an empty banquet room because the parents were struggling with a fussy child. In the otherwise empty room, the child could run around while the rest of the family finished eating.

“Sometimes parents are stressed out at that point and the kids are driving them crazy,” said DiMillo, who owns DiMillo’s restaurant. “But we can’t allow crying children to disturb other diners, either.”

Over the weekend, a Portland diner owner touched a nerve with parents and restaurant owners alike when she yelled at a toddler who had been crying in the restaurant. After the parents posted on Facebook about their experience at Marcy’s Diner, owner Darla Neugebauer defended her actions, sparking an intense online debate about kids in restaurants and how employees should or shouldn’t act when young diners get a little noisy.

For Justin Walker, chef at Earth and Hidden Pond in Kennebunkport, it’s a constant juggling act.

“We are in the business to please our guests. Short of guests being rude, out of line or harassing our staff, we tolerate a lot of things,” Walker said. But, he said, he also has to be mindful of other diners who don’t want to spend the evening listening to a crying child.

Walker said his staff sends a “fun” mason jar full of baby vegetables to every table with children as soon as they arrive to give the kids something to munch on and to keep them occupied. Making the dining experience fun also is Walker’s key to success with his 5-year-old son, Jackson, he said.

And when children begin to fidget partway through a four-course meal, Walker said his staff will find a way to keep them entertained.

“Last night, we had a family that was becoming a bit of a problem, but my wife (general manager Danielle Walker) whisked the kids away and got them outside to play,” he said. “The parents are spending a lot of money and this is part of our service. We definitely don’t discourage kids. We try to work around them and make it fun for them.”

DiMillo, who is a father and grandfather, said he always tries to keep children entertained while they’re at the restaurant to head off problems. His waitstaff gives kids crayons and crackers, and most families go out of their way to make sure children are well-behaved, he said.

“Sometimes people are defensive about it and don’t want to do anything about it. That’s difficult,” DiMillo said. “We’ve had to ask people to leave.”

Patricia Finkelstein of Scarborough dines at Flatbread Co. in Portland with her family, including Gavriel Steinherr, 3, left, and Akivah Steinherr, visitors from Switzerland. The boys’ mother, Evelyn Steinherr, said restaurants in the states are more family-friendly than at home.

Patricia Finkelstein of Scarborough dines at Flatbread Co. in Portland with her family, including Gavriel Steinherr, 3, left, and Akivah Steinherr, visitors from Switzerland. The boys’ mother, Evelyn Steinherr, said restaurants in the states are more family-friendly than at home.

Laurie Joseph, a tourist from Pennsylvania who was eating lunch with her family Monday at DiMillo’s, talked quietly with her 4-year-old son, Wyatt Holan, as they waited for their food to be served. She said she tries to keep Wyatt busy with crayons or a book when they’re at a restaurant.

“It helps occupy his time,” she said. “You do your best, but there are times it just doesn’t work.”

Joseph bristled at the idea of a restaurant owner angrily confronting a crying child. That type of reaction would ensure she’d never return to that restaurant, she said.

At Flatbread Co. on Commercial Street, Evelyn Steinherr’s three young children spent their lunchtime alternating between munching on pizza, coloring and checking out the wood-fired pizza oven. Steinherr, who was visiting from Switzerland, said restaurants in Europe generally are not welcoming to children.

“In the states, every restaurant is family-friendly,” she said. “Here, I feel like I’m not bothering people.”

Thomas Cancelliere, assistant manager at Flatbread, said he has never had to ask a family to leave because of loud children. Families tend to gravitate to the restaurant, where it isn’t uncommon for strangers to sit at the same table and chat, he said.

“Most people do their best to be respectful of those around them,” he said.

Dorothea Johnson, founder of the Protocol School of Washington and co-author of “Modern Manners: Tools to Take You to the Top,” said restaurant owners should never yell at a child, but can address behavioral issues directly with parents in a way that is not disruptive to other diners.

Parents, she said, should be proactive about bringing their children into public settings by being clear with them beforehand about expectations for their behavior. When a child is being disruptive, the polite thing to do is take the child outside until they calm down, she said.

“Children don’t know the atmosphere that they’re in and how they should behave,” she said. “When they are young, you need to teach them how to behave.”