All parents have moments where the yelling and tantrums of the overtired, grumpy kids get quite overwhelming: but of course, they’re also mom and dad's adorable little treasure who lights up everyone's life when they’re not making a cacophony that would put a herd of angry velociraptors to shame.
At some point back in your childless life, you might have been on a plane with a screaming baby while you’re trying to get some rest, and thought to yourself “won’t that noise ever stop?” Nowadays, that noise is coming from your cherub and you realise that heck, a baby’s gotta do what a baby’s gotta do: you love and cherish your little one, and somehow the noise is less annoying when it’s coming from your favorite person in the world.
Most childless people do understand that having kids comes with having noise, but a sizeable number of people would prefer that noise to be far away from them (and sadly another sizeable number just don't get that this is a natural part of being a child).
As a parent, you don’t want to be unable to go to restaurants until your kids reach a quiet age (which you’re indeed hoping will happen sometime before they turn 18), and you don’t want to be confined to the house because your kids are, well, being kids.
So, what’s a restaurateur to do?
How can they be sensitive to the needs of tiny customers and their parents, as well as to single people who either aren’t into kids or would prefer to love them from afar? While many restaurants adopt child-friendly policies – playground equipment, coloring books, etc. – which attract parents and keep kids occupied, there are also restaurants that swing to the other side of the pendulum in ways that can be quite controversial, to say the least.
Here’s some cases of restaurants that have make the headlines for being child-unfriendly, to the understandable shock of parents everywhere (but on the other hand, also to the delight of your 20-something cousin who adores your baby in theory but will run for the hills at nappy-change time).
13 Implementing "Good Behavior" Policies
Antonio Ferrari, of Padua, Italy, offers a 5% “polite children” discount for families whose children behave to what he considers to be a good standard. As of February 2017, he’s given the discount three times in six months, which he says "shows how rare good behavior is".
Personally, I’d like to know more about what criteria he uses - last time I went to an Italian restaurant, little Natasha’s part of the table looked like a spaghetti bomb hit it, but she was also very quiet in the process.
I’m also curious how customers who don’t get the discount at the end of the meal feel. Rejected and dejected? Reluctant to come again, or struck with a compulsive urge to come back every weekend until their kids finally reach Antonio’s standards? If there’s a finishing school anywhere near Padua, have enrolments skyrocketed? Are people traveling from far and wide to take the Ferrari Child Challenge? So many questions.
12 Banning Children Altogether
A growing number of restaurants are adopting a child-free policy: in other words, come without the kids or just don’t come. This decision has been quite controversial, gaining considerable support from childless customers, and perhaps surprisingly from parents as well – even moms and dads sometimes want to know for sure that they can enjoy a meal in blissful silence.
On the other hand, child bans are quite restrictive on parents who do want to still be able to enjoy a social life without feeling like a pariah.
If dollars talk, then there’s clearly a market for both child-free and child-friendly spaces. While child-free restaurants are losing out on families as customers, enacting a child ban doesn’t seem to be doing an Australian restaurant, Munchies, any harm: after banning kids under seven from dining, they did their best ever weekend trade.
Both sides of this debate have some valid points, but I’m certainly glad to be able to enjoy a tasty meal with my toddler in tow, and it’s worth pointing out that the people advocating child-free restaurants were once the same noisy little people that understandably annoy them now, so maybe it’s best to err on the side of tolerance.
11 Having A Complete Lack Of Professionalism
The owner of a café in Portland, Marcy’s Diner, made national news in the US back in 2015 for screaming at a mid-tantrum one-year old. Yes, many a server has probably been sorely tempted to do so, but as the toddler’s mother pointed out, one year olds have tantrums. It’s normal. It’s what they do.
As a grown-up in this situation, the correct thing to do is not to terrify a tiny little human. Or following it up with an expletive-filled rant that included “you are lucky I didn't get really, incredibly nuts because being physical is not something I cower from.” Wrong in so many ways.
10 Thinking They Can Control Baby's Feeding
Shaming breastfeeding mothers is unfortunately not yet a thing of the past, and many moms who nurse in public still experience nasty comments. Unfortunately, these sometimes come from restaurateurs or servers, despite the right to breastfeed being enshrined in all 50 US states and much of the developed world.
From women being told to cover up or leave the restaurant, to leave the restaurant even though they’re covered, or to feed their child in the toilet (gross, no), there’s still a surprising number of mothers finding that some people really need to learn to mind their own business about this beautiful and natural act.
9 Advertising As Not Child-Friendly
After receiving a one-star review because the restaurant was deemed child-unfriendly, a French café in Australia made headlines worldwide when they posted the following on their Facebook:
The story went worldwide, with coverage in the US and the UK. As you’d imagine, commenters went both ways on this issue; the owner of the café, Jodie Morris, is a single mother herself, and went on to explain that she’d experienced “children emptying salt and pepper shakers into my fireplaces, parents changing nappies on my lounges, kids grinding their own food into my carpet, parents sitting babies in nappies in the middle of dining tables…"
Despite our best attempts, it’s sometimes hard to corral over-excited kids. But I think it’s a fair call if Jodie expects us to at least attempt it. You wouldn’t let your children empty salt and pepper shakers into your fireplace at home, then people shouldn’t really be letting it happen at a restaurant either.
8 Being Child-Friendly Only In Theory
Most parents have probably experienced something alone these lines: a restaurant with high chairs but nowhere to change your little one, a change table that’s only in the women’s toilet (very inconvenient for a daddy-day-out!), a restaurant with a children’s menu but no high chairs or change table (bizarre, right?) or countless variations of the above.
Restaurateurs may be child-friendly in theory but not have necessarily put two-and-two together, so if you’re visiting a restaurant and finding that it doesn’t have the basics that you need, then it can’t hurt to mention it so that they can prepare for the future.
7 Parent-Shaming On Facebook
As well as the Marcy’s Diner diatribe we mentioned earlier, there’s also the Crumb Controversy: the owner of a café in Lake Stevens, Washington scolded a mother for the crumbs that her children left after eating scones, told her not to bring the kids into the café again, and then – wait for it – posted pictures of the crumbs on Facebook.
The owner has apologized since, but in the meanwhile, hundreds of people had their say either criticizing or supporting the owner’s reaction. One comment that particularly resonates: “I know more adults that come into places that leave bigger more disgusting messes.” Either way, the pictures of the crumbs really didn’t belong on Facebook.
6 Kicking Kids Out For Not Being "Decorous"
There are many adjectives that might spring to mind when you’re thinking about children, but decorous is probably not one of them. Of course, high-end restaurants do tend to come with expectations in terms of dress and behavior for adults, but how do we adjust these expectations for the younger set of diners?
Once you’ve had children, is the world of high-end dining off the table (literally) until they’re old enough to be more decorous and less rambunctious, or worse, having a meltdown because they were hoping to spend the night at home watching Dora the Explorer?
A Chicago restaurant, which charges a few hundred dollars for a meal and requires reservations months in advance, posted a tweet after a crying 8-month old led to complaints from diners. As the restaurant owner identifies, the parents brought their baby with them because of a last-minute dinner cancellation.
There’s two sides to this camp: if you’re spending $470 on a meal, you probably want to enjoy it in silence, but on the other hand, as we’ve established earlier, expecting babies not to cry isn’t really feasible. The restaurant doesn’t have any policy on children, but the co-owner later went on to explain that a level of decorum is followed.
I guess the baby was insufficiently decorous. Gotta work on that, little one - perhaps at that finishing school presumably opening up near the Italian restaurant with a good-behavior discount policy.
5 Passing Baby A Drink To Keep Him Quiet
Beer-drinking in Belgium is quite an ingrained part of the culture, to the extent that it’s actually been served in schools as a “healthy alternative” to soda. This probably wouldn’t fly at your local school cafeteria, but according to the chairman of the beer club behind the scheme, “beer is for the whole family”. Walk into a Pub with a baby in the US and mom is sure to get some dirty looks, but in Brussels, it's not only accepted but completely normal! Imagine walking into a Pub with baby and casually being offered a beer and high chair?
Maybe it does help keep kids quiet, and sure, it probably does make kids fall asleep, but it’s probably not the best solution to stop them from emptying those salt and pepper shakers into the fireplace. Just get out some coloring books instead, and maybe go easy on the soda, too.
4 Being A Little Too Child-Friendly
Keeping kids occupied during meals means that parents can finally enjoy a meal in peace (or even taste what they’re eating), and there’s plenty of ways that restaurants can cater to children that will hopefully keep them busy, or reasonably quiet. But unfortunately, many of these child-friendly restaurants come at a cost: very unhealthy children’s menus, and marketing that’s explicitly aimed at children.
A US study recently found that 96% of children recognized Ronald McDonald, for example. Children are particularly vulnerable to being influenced by marketing, so it’s important to try finding a balance between finding child-friendly restaurants and encouraging good eating habits. Making a restaurant child-friendly as a lure to get families into the place shouldn't be a good enough reason to overdo it on the fast food and McD's...
3 Targeting Specific Mothers
A website called The Bitchy Waiter wrote a post categorized as "I Hate Kids" back in 2015, in response to a mother saying that they don't really care if her toddler is disturbing other people:
To put it mildly, the post called Tracy a b**ch more than a few times, along with some other rather unflattering comments. One thing that The Bitchy Waiter doesn't address in her diatribe: Tracy makes it very clear that she will try to calm her child down, but that she's not leaving the restaurant because of her child doing what all children sometimes do. It's not something for Tracy to be ashamed of, she's entitled to not be expected to leave by the wait staff, and The Bitchy Waiter probably had her share of bad days back when she was in diapers, too.
Because long before venting on the Internet, long before the hospitality industry, and as far back as prehistoric times, babies have more-than-occasionally had massive meltdowns over tiny things. But unlike early womankind, modern moms feel themselves "entitled" to be out in public with the next generation of humans, while they do the things that tiny humans do. (I'd call that progress, personally.)
2 Reserving Right To Refuse Service
UK media personality Janet Street-Porter wrote an article for the Daily Mail advocating banning children from cafes and restaurants in general, stating "I haven’t produced any offspring, but it doesn’t make me a child-hater, just someone who thinks there’s a time and place for adventurous play and it’s not when I’m trying to eat lunch", and that "It’s as if children dominate our society and no one has the guts to question this ludicrous assumption."
IMHO, it's not so much that children dominate our society, it's that the hospitality industry is making accommodations to make the taxing job of a primary caregiver a bit easier. The days are gone in which motherhood of small children was something that involved confinement to the home so that we wouldn't offend the public with our boobs, the loud noises made by the little people attached to us (often quite literally) at the hip, and so on.
We refer to these changes as "child-friendly", but more than anything, they are mother-friendly: the "something small, cross and wearing a nappy" that Janet refers to is often with mothers all day, every day. Parenthood is wonderful and magical and so on, but it's also one of the most exhausting jobs in the world. Some mothers don't really get to enjoy dining experiences flat-out for years on end, and getting to enjoy that cappuccino (and/or babyccino) is an oasis of joy in the desert, as well as often being just the ticket to calm down those small, cross nappy-wearers.
It's an occasional annoyance for the childless to hear public tantrums, but Janet's theory that mothers have selective hearing is unfortunately not true: it's hard for childless people to imagine having to deal with the tantrums on a very regular basis, or that it doesn't have an off-switch. But by providing child-friendly spaces, we're providing a much better quality of life for mothers, who really do have enough on their plate and can be refreshed, revitalized and ready to face the day.
As Janet herself puts it, "sometimes, a few minutes for a quiet coffee and a sandwich are the only time we have to ourselves all day." Many mothers don't even get that... don't take away our coffees and sandwiches, there are millions of sleep-deprived moms running largely on coffee, and that few moments of trying to tune out the tantrums while we enjoy a sandwich are pretty much our Holy Grail. Yes, we should at least try to calm our little ones down - for their sake as well as Janet's - but we still need our child-friendly spaces, probably more than the childless need child-free ones.
Also, It's not that we have "selective hearing" and are "impervious" to the tantrums... we're just trying really, really hard not to hear them and to be able to enjoy that coffee and sandwich despite them. I'd suggest doing the same.
1 Isn't There A Middle Ground?
So, how should restaurateurs handle the contentious issue of kids and the noises and mess that come with them? While it’s understandable that sometimes people want to eat a meal in peace and quiet (heck, as parents we know the feeling all too well!), it’s also important not to isolate parents and make them feel unwelcome in public spaces. Additionally, restaurant owners often put a lot of love into their spaces, just like we do with our own homes. But to some extent, kids will be kids, with all that entails and all the wonderful things about them, too. This adorable-but-messy package is part of human nature.
Perhaps the best solution is that instead of putting blanket policies such as child-bans into place, restaurant owners and the general public should try to be tolerant (they were all kids once themselves), and as parents we should also do our best to keep our little ones from wreaking too much havoc – it might feel like a losing battle sometimes, but trying counts for a lot! It’s a win-win for everyone if we all consider each other.