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VOL. 126 | NO. 168 | Monday, August 29, 2011

Is ‘No Children Allowed’ Policy Right or Wrong?


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In July, Mike Vuick, owner of the Pittsburgh-area restaurant McDain’s, banned children younger than 6 from his establishment. More than 2,000 email responses to this action ran 11 to 1 in favor of the ban.

(Photo Illustration: Emily Morrow)

So the question, other than the obvious legal one about banning any human being other than a drunken, armed madman from an eating establishment, is: Children and Restaurants – Recipe for Success or Calculus for Disaster? It depends on the restaurant, the children and the parents.

Surely most diners have encountered the situation where a child or toddler misbehaves in a restaurant and its parents are at wits’ end and don’t know what to do or else they treat the kid as if everything wrong with their marriage is its fault or they act totally blasé and the commotion mounts and everybody in the room becomes really uncomfortable or even angry and the spirit of conviviality withers and management and staff seems paralyzed by indecision and basically the whole freakin’ night is ruined!

Obviously there are restaurants where it makes sense to bring children and restaurants where it would probably be inappropriate, at least in regard to the age and training of the child. For that purpose let’s divide “children” into the categories of Babes in Arms, Toddlers (who require high-chairs or booster seats), Little Kids, Older Kids and Semi-Grown Kids, say 11 to 14.

For all of these age groups, I say yes to such family-friendly places as Soul Fish, Three Angels, almost all Mexican and Asian restaurants – ever been to Las Delicias on Friday after kid soccer and baseball practice? – Central BBQ and many other barbecue restaurants, Trolley Stop, The Cupboard and other home-cooking establishments, countless chain restaurants. You get the idea. But would you take a Babe in Arms, a Toddler or even a Semi-Grown Kid to Erling Jensen: The Restaurant? To Equestria, Acre, Chez Philippe, Restaurant Iris, Andrew Michael, Felicia Suzanne’s, River Oaks, Sweet Grass?

Here’s a story from Mac Edwards, owner of The Elegant Farmer:

“Some people were eating out on the patio, and a kid fell and bumped his head and started to cry. Father took him inside, into the hallway and the kid was still crying, so the father, very nicely, not being mean to the kid, took him into the restroom and they were in there for a while, talking, and the kid felt better and they came out and finished dinner. I love parents like that. Nobody got angry. Nobody got defensive. He took care of the situation and that was that.”

But listen to Patti Jensen, manager of Erling Jensen and wife of the eponymous chef and owner.

“Would you take a Babe in Arms, a Toddler or even a Semi-Grown Kid to Erling Jensen: The Restaurant? To Equestria, Acre, Chez Philippe, Restaurant Iris, Andrew Michael, Felicia Suzanne’s, River Oaks, Sweet Grass?”

“We don’t see children very often, thank goodness,” she said. “We have one high-chair, and of course if someone asks about children I would never turn them away, but we have had bad experiences.”

How bad would that be?

“Once a couple had the worst children in the world, and the parents thought they were cute, they wouldn’t do anything with these kids and we had to put them in a separate room,” Jensen said. “And one night a doctor couple – the child was crawling up on the table! I said they were disturbing things and I would have to move them, and they just took their food and left.”

Jensen hastened to add that not all families with children are badly behaved and oblivious.

“There’s a couple, they’re regulars,” she said, “and they have two children. The little boy is somewhat of a picky eater, and we fix him a dish of pasta with butter, and the older girl orders from the menu. It’s very calm. They’re lovely people.”

It sounds as if what we’re talking about isn’t a kid problem but a parent problem.

Florence Fabricant, who writes the “Dear FloFab” question-and-answer column about dining etiquette for The New York Times’ Diner’s Journal blog, places responsibility on the parents.

In an email message, she said, “For what’s appropriate, it really depends on the tastes and attitudes of the parents as much as the children. It is useful to parents (or grandparents) to bring children to restaurants that are familiar, not someplace new, and to explain the rules of the game to the children, so they understand the specialness of the situation. A parent should be prepared to take a child out of the restaurant – briefly, with a gentle explanation – when behavior interferes with the enjoyment of others.”

Rebecca Severs views these issues from the perspective of a restaurant co-owner and manager – Bari Ristorante e Enoteca and Three Angels Diner, with husband and chef Jason Severs – and as a mother of three boys.

“We eat out with our boys at least once a week, and lots of things are factored in,” said Severs. “We consider the time of day, going early and trying to be out before the restaurant gets busy. Mexican restaurants are good for kids because the food comes out quickly and it’s usually louder, so we don’t feel like our kids are bothering other customers. If they’re behaving, we’ll go eat sushi, but it’s quiet in sushi places, so they know they have to be calmer.”

As far as children in Bari are concerned, “We don’t see too many children under 12, and the ones that we do are usually well-behaved.

“On occasion, if a child is unhappy or being loud, the parent will get up and walk over to the bar or outside with them for a minute. I can’t say that we have ever had a situation where a child was unruly and causing a disturbance at Bari.”

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