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Touchy Subject: Should Restaurants Have the Right to Ban Kids?

Should Restaurants Have the Right to Ban Kids? Child eating a plate of pasta

We’ve all been in restaurants when a kiddo is having a total meltdown. And we’ve probably all been the parents of kids having a total meltdown in a restaurant, too. With this in mind, we wondered if restaurants should have the right to ban children from their establishment, for the sake of their business. Two parents and a food personality throw down. 

NO by Julie M. Green

I just love hearing small screaming children when I go out to eat, said exactly no one — especially not the parents whose child happens to be the one doing the screaming.

But to say that a person, simply by virtue of their age, is not welcome in a restaurant or other public setting feels uncomfortably close to discrimination. At best, prohibiting children is misguided; at worst, intolerant. After all, families should have the right to enjoy dining options that don’t involve fast-food burgers and pizza.

Our local Italian restaurant strikes the perfect balance. Rather than turn away families with young children, they tend to seat them in a particular section. They bring out the kids’ dinners first if necessary. As a result, everyone wins — no one more so than the restaurant, which has amassed an insanely loyal clientele over the years for valuing all of its customers.

Children need to learn how to behave in restaurants, and it’s up to us to teach them etiquette and manners by example. This is what happens in other countries. How else are kids expected to learn how to behave if we don’t allow them? And what kind of message are we sending as a society if we treat families with such contempt?

A blanket ban on babies or young children from restaurants is not the answer. But maybe banning the inconsiderate behaviour of parents is the way to go. And while we’re at it, can we also ban patrons whose cell phones go off continually and those who engage in raucous drunken banter? Because they can be just as disruptive as any child.

YES by Kari Reinhardt

You and I have something remarkable in common. We both have the most adorable and fascinating children on the planet. As enchanting as your progeny are, if they’re under the age of 10, I don’t want to see their little ketchup-smeared faces in the trendy restaurant in which I’m eating one of my few meals out.

Sure, your darlings may be so cute they could melt sorbet. But young children are often unruly and loud. And if I paid $22 for a gourmet glace I can’t peacefully digest because your tyke is thrashing and hollering, I’ll cast a look your way that’s decidedly chillier than my dessert.

Kids can also be smelly. I happily abide the “stinky diaper” stench when I order a yummy cheese plate. Dining near a tot who’s marinating in an actual fetid diaper is hardly palatable though. Also some potty-trained kids don’t have full bodily function control yet. Which means I may get a rank methane blast from your table.

The main reason, however, that young children should be banned from upscale restaurants is that it’s just plain rude to have them there. It’s bad form to teach your little ones table manners at the expense of other patron’s enjoyment.

If I fork out for a five-star date night with my husband, it’s inconsiderate of other parents to tarnish this special evening by having small kids along when I’m taking a break from my own children. Even if your cherubs are impeccably behaved, you’ll cause anxiety for other customers who’ll expect screams or spit-up to erupt any moment.

The owner of my favourite chic Vancouver restaurant said it best to two parents who blithely masticated while their urchins noisily sprinted about. She said, “I love children. But they don’t belong in fine restaurants.”

Julie Van Rosendaal, food editor and restaurant lover, weighs in:

I struggle with the idea that a restaurant should be able to ban people based solely on their age — I think the issue has far more to do with behaviour, and I’ve witnessed many a group of adults disrupt a room full of diners.

Some restaurants have banned cell phones for the same reason. They don’t want jarring rings or loud conversations in an otherwise muted dining room. But we shouldn’t expect or assume all kids will be disruptive. To blithely eat while your kids are loud or running amok is rude, but that doesn’t mean other kids and their parents should be punished for it. I’ve seen plenty of young kids behave perfectly in high-end restaurants. And the younger the family, the earlier they tend to eat. Dining at an earlier hour often means the restaurant is less busy, and curious kids are less likely to trip up busy servers.

If you can’t control your kids at most restaurants, don’t pretend to be able to on the night you finally land that reservation at your city’s most coveted resto. If your kids will sit quietly and happily read Harry Potter for an hour or two, why not bring them along to avoid the killer babysitter bill? Kids deserve the opportunity to experience fine dining, too. But be prepared to leave. If your four-star restaurant is met with a five-alarm meltdown, it’s time to go for the sake of fellow diners looking for a relaxing evening.

That said, we should, as a society, have more patience for families trying their best. We can never expect to have full control of our surroundings when we’re out in public. If you’re really after a quiet evening with no disruptions, there are some fantastic options to order in. Dim the lights and light the candles.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, November/ December 2015.

a man carrying two children

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