What About Restaurants?
This is the situation that most people in the United States seem to feel uncomfortable about. If you ask why, the reason given is usually "Health Codes". Nearly everyone (including, unfortunately, many restaurant staff) seems to be under the impression that it's against health codes to go barefoot into restaurants in the United States. This turns out to be a complete myth. At the following website are letters obtained from the Health Departments of about 40 American states confirming the non-existence of any such regulations.
Often you will see (sometimes you have to look pretty hard) a sign that says something like:
No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service
This, of course, is not referencing any law, ordinance or statue. It can just be taken as a statement of restaurant policy (actually the wording is fairly ambiguous.)
In Practice ...
You will have very little trouble at fast-food restaurants (even ones that display a "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service" sign) and (surprisingly) upscale restaurants. Most trouble appears to come from chain coffee-shop type restaurants. There is hardly ever any problem at "ethnic" type restaurants (Chinese, Thai, Indian etc.)
If you are confronted, the thing to do, is to remain calm and to remember that you are the customer. Please don't let them get away with telling you that "It's a health code issue" (It's not!!).
No-one likes a confrontation (rare as it may be) and you may want to simply go to the
car and put some sandals on the kids (of course, you may also be barefoot yourself.)
On the other hand, you may just want to go elsewhere. Over time, you will build up a collection of eating places that aren't uptight over you or your kids being barefoot. Some of us have found restaurants which have been quite happy to serve us after learning about the absence of any related health codes (we showed them copies of the Health Department letters obtained for our states.)
Things to remember:
A few people say that they don't want to see feet while they are eating. This is an interesting, but entirely nonsensical neurosis. Feet, hands, toes, fingers ... what's the difference? In any case, apparently "acceptable" sandals often cover little more of the feet ... an indication that there is really no logic at work here. We really don't have to buy into such an illogical neurosis.
A final observation:
In any case, after having passed through "hallowed space" to get seated, in our experience, you and your kids should feel free to kick the sandals (or shoes) off under the table. We see many people doing this and any hassle for it is extremely rare. Don't feel bad about getting comfortable. Just consider how much money you are paying for the meal.
But, What About ...