For years, I worked in restaurants: sloppy burger joints, friendly neighbourhood pubs, breakfast hotspots and high-end, candlelit bistros where entrees started at $25. And from paper serviettes and noisy jukebox tunes to expertly folded cloth napkins and hushed conversations, each place had its own distinct vibe. But they all had one thing in common—couples showed up at all of them with little kids.
I worked at one elegant restaurant, an intimate 40-seater open only for dinner, that was known for its perfectly braised lamb shank. It didn’t offer a children’s menu, high chairs or crayons. Clearly the establishment screamed—or shall I say politely hinted—adults only. Yet, sometimes I found myself with an expensive bottle of red having to maneuver around strollers containing fussy babies and bored toddlers. As I swerved around pre-schoolers to serve up chef-plated steaks and seared salmon I thought, who the heck brings a kid to a place like this?
Since then I’ve had a child of my own, and I still think this way. He is four-and-a-half and a joy to dine with. Sometimes. Other times I am ripping my hair out, pleading with him to lower his voice, to not play with his food, climb on seats or lean over and talk to the guests behind us. Because of this, and out of respect for fellow diners, I firmly believe some establishments are not suited for young kids. Yes, this includes even the most well-behaved little foodies with a fondness for beef carpaccio.
The fact is, young children are still learning the art of self-control, etiquette and basic manners. It’s not their fault, but this doesn’t mean every space should become a training camp for how to behave.
Recently, things got heated far beyond the kitchen at an upscale Italian restaurant called Caruso’s in North Carolina after the manager gave a family with a young girl in tow the boot. The decision came after repeated requests by staff for the child’s loud iPad to be turned down went ignored. The incident led to a full ban on children under the age of 5, a decision that has garnered both outrage and applause.
Bravo, I say.
As a onetime waitron, mom and restaurant lover I’ve witnessed many shocking things.
I’ve watched toddlers slam into waiters armed with hot plates; crawl under tables; chuck and smear food; dump ketchup, salt and pepper shakers. I’ve seen countless crying babes, diaper explosions, impromptu shrieking, the terse pleas of parents cajoling, bargaining and bribing, and, in more recent years, cartoons blasting from tiny screens. And that’s the mild stuff.
Recently, a boy of about six rode his scooter through the massive microbrew pub where a group of us were eating. As he zoomed by, the befuddled waitress didn’t know what to do (or where to walk). After all, his parents didn’t seem fazed. Perhaps, like so many of us, they were frazzled, overworked, and found themselves relishing a quiet moment to sip their microbrews.
But isn’t that part of the problem? Paying for a meal and service doesn’t entitle us to take a break from parenting. It’s no more the job of restauranteurs and their employees to babysit a customer’s offspring than it is for them to ‘parent’ the guardians.
Restaurant owners are in the business of selling food, drinks and experience. They should be able to set the tone, ambience and style of their own establishment to cater to a specific crowd. If they want to create a peaceful and sophisticated setting for grown-ups to gather free from Paw Patrol and cheese bunnies (frankly this sounds heavenly), they should be able to place an age restriction without fear of revolt.
It’s not as if there’s a shortage of eateries more than happy to serve pint-sized patrons. So why should we balk about a few off-limit venues? Seriously, we should be applauding it. So go on and relax … child-free. Chew your food slowly. Order the good wine without the “whine.” Splurge on dessert. The thing is, you might actually enjoy it.