Should kids be banned from restaurants?

Hey— at least this little monster has something going into his mouth. That ought to keep him quiet, at least for a little while. . .

Hey— at least this little monster has something going into his mouth. That ought to keep him quiet, at least for a little while. . .

Last week I was having lunch at a casual neighborhood restaurant. The sort of place that probably had a kids menu, and kids were indeed present. I knew, because from a far corner, one was vocalizing loudly, for the entirety of my meal. The kid didn’t even sound like she was mad or sad, just cleaning out the old pipes, and learning that she could make a great clamor, garnering a reaction from her parents who emphatically “shushed” her for the better part of an hour.

It was loud, it was annoying, it bothered me and my fellow diners, and it went on. But what were we to do? We had ordered, we were eating, we were captive. At long last, the mother took the kid outside, and we all got back to peacefully lunching over our egg and cheese sandwiches.

We’ve all had the experience of having “our” space invaded by a kid having a shit fit or just behaving badly in our orbit. Whether we choose to stare daggers at the parents, mutter under our breath, or simply ignore, we’re relieved when the chaos finally comes to some kind of halt.

Lately, a couple of restaurant owners have made international interweb news because of their decisions to ban kids from their restaurants. The bigger aspect of the news is that people seem to be loving it — many diners are excited at the prospect of adults-only dining spaces, and have been rewarding these restaurants in spades.

Most of us can probably agree that there are lots of social spaces that should be thought of as adults only: R rated movies, most bars, city streets after midnight. You’d probably look askance at any parent dragging their kid in to see 50 Shades of Grey, so why not at $29 a plate dining establishments with Riedel stemware and white linen?

A friend recently contacted me asking what new spots he should check out in Uptown with kids in tow. I answered honestly: “With kids, I don’t really know.” Elegant, Italian Parella with its excellent wine list, crudo program, and dry-aged steak? No. Bradstreet with its tiny jewel, bespoke cocktails? Surely not. Heyday, Burch, Libertine? No, no, no. Adults pay a premium, not only to eat in spaces like these, but to enjoy a hard-earned reprieve from the grind of regular life. Restaurants, with their expensive build outs, soft lighting, and thoughtful music, create an atmosphere that is in some ways a fantasy, a Calgonesque escape from reality. It should go without saying that the piercing shrieks of a kid, or even one banging on the tabletop or flinging their sippy cups on the ground, seriously puts a wrinkle in that fantasy. And that isn't just the child-freer in me saying so — many of those adults probably also paid a premium to the baby sitter to indulge in this fantasy. 

I have a six-year-old niece, the cutest kid on the goddamn planet, I might add, and we have a longtime tradition of getting Mickey Mouse pancakes at the Lowry. If a place has Mickey cakes on the menu, it’s probably a safe bet for bringing a kid. But even so, I know she has a pretty strict (40 minute or so) time limit on being expected to sit still — after which time she starts climbing under the table, fidgeting like a Can Can dancer, and spilling her chocolate milk all over the place. Time to whisk her outside to do something more conducive to child energies. 

The obvious upshot of this kid banning business is that it shouldn’t be the onus of the restaurateur to impose such limitations anyway. Parents (and aunties) use their common sense for all sorts of child-rearing moments — diaper wet? Change it! Snotty nose? Wipe it. Squealing kid? Find a way to make it quiet. Nature predisposes that noise to be as annoying as it is for a reason: getting a kid’s needs met by any means necessary, even if the need is only to be released from the confines of a restaurant and back onto the playground where they’d rather be anyway. 

So maybe the ban should be on daft, inconsiderate parents (or aunts)? Kids are pretty lovely creatures, until adults get their hands on them.  You know what they say — follow a dumb kid home.... 

And if you do want to bring the kiddos, here's a nice, still very relevant list we put together just for you. Kids are more than welcome at these eateries, even when they're having a "moment":