Opinion

When restaurants ban kids

One restaurant’s decision not to permit kids in the evenings has some parents up in arms — but Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is torn on the subject.

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Anna enjoys her meal at a kid-friendly restaurant. Photo: Tara-Michelle Ziniuk.

Follow along as the Today’s Parent team shares their thoughts on the latest news in the parenting world.

When a seafood restaurant in the US made the call to ban children under the age of eight from dining after 7 p.m., it caused an uproar. The restaurant’s decision certainly isn’t unprecedented. Here at Today’s Parent we’ve talked about how the Earl’s chain has a child-unfriendly policy that was put into effect earlier this year.

Read more: Why one restaurant refuses to offer high chairs >

On my end, I’m torn. Quite hypocritically, I’d like to be able to take my toddler out to eat with me wherever I choose to go. But I’d also prefer not to hear the whines and shrieks of other people’s kids.

Read more: Discount for good behaviour >

For me, there are a number of things I think of when this topic comes up:
• I have food allergies (a major one is gluten) and I like to eat healthy. Granted, the best way to manage this is to eat at home, but the reality is that most of us aren’t always able. I have better food options if I avoid the typical “family dining” establishments, which tend to be bready variations of diner or pub food.

Read more: 9 gluten-free (but not taste-free) desserts >

• No matter how well-behaved (a subjective term, of course, because well-behaved kids still act like kids!) they are, the reality is that most children are messy. Our very own dad blogger Ian Mendes has even admitted that he’d rather not eat meals with his kids. And it’s not like you’re going to bring smocks for the servers and tarps for the restaurant floor (although, I may have just come up with a great mompreneur endeavour!)

• Not all restaurants are created equally. This is a big one for me. A brunch place in my old neighbourhood that does have highchairs also has a sign on its door that reads, “for the safety of all patrons, children must remain seated.” Seriously?! I’m pretty sure I don’t have to explain the problem here. Conversely, last spring I was at a conference in Kingston and we went out to eat at a nice downtown sushi restaurant. Unexpectedly, they brought a plastic cup for my daughter, a free miso soup, plastic cutlery and wet naps at the end of the meal. Judging from the outside of the establishment, I’d worried we might be turned away. It didn’t look like they’d have room to store our stroller, and I’d been nervous — which goes to show, you never know. (While I’m commending places on their child-friendliness, can I just say I wish the IKEA food area was a restaurant chain so I didn’t have to travel to the outskirts of the city to access it?)

• Assess when and how you take your kid out to eat. I wouldn’t subject any of you to a teething baby or grumpy preschooler and I hope you’d have the same consideration. Sometimes ordering ahead for take-out, or taking a walk while you wait, is ideal. If clean-up is an issue, take your dinner to a park (I do some nights even when I have cooked). Not every place carries highchairs, but it doesn’t mean they hate you. At the risk of sounding like an advertisement, I loved My Little Seat and for a certain period of time it really aided our being able to eat out.

• The blame game. Let’s face it, sometimes it is you. I brought my daughter out with a friend to a semi-upscale pizza joint in town. They had crayons. They figured out a make-shift booster seat for us. They even had a kid’s menu (although I didn’t order off of it.) And in truth, my daughter was a menace. My friend asked for the bill “in case we had to take off quickly” as our food arrived. And we later did. Apologies for the shrieks and whines.

• It’s not just a kid issue. Some places are too loud for elderly grandparents. I’ve noticed that a couple of the café-to-bar venues I frequent ask that people not use their laptops after a certain time of day. While conceptually it’s nice to think that a place will have a bit of something for everyone, it’s not often the case. And if you’re a customer going for atmosphere, or an establishment with a particular demographic in mind, I think that’s OK. I avoid public pools that I know to be overrun with adolescents, for example.

• Know your enemy (and your friends!). In addition to popular family-centric chain restaurants, there are also lots of independents that will welcome your business. If you’re in a neighbourhood, get to know the local business owners. Ones that have kids of their own are likely to be most forgiving. Downtown there is always a new start-up looking for business. In rural areas, and even some suburbs, you’ll find family-owned establishments that have catered to people with kids for generations.

• What works for some just doesn’t work for others. And that’s OK! Today’s Parent published a debate on bringing babies to bars, and a debate it was! I bring my toddler to adult parties, and I get good feedback. My kid happens to be pretty easy to be around for most adults and she does especially well if there are one or two other kids, but not a room full of them. We know our kids, and ourselves, and that this kind of set up works for some of us, but not all, and not always. A preference doesn’t have to be a party line.

What works for your family? Was there an age or time you started or stopped bringing your kids to restaurants?

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