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Jun 12, 2009 11:00 AM

Should Some Restaurants Be Child-Free?


Stemming from a post about Joshua's, in Maine, that apparently doesn't allow children:

Do you believe there are some restaurants that simply shouldn't allow children? If so, why? If not, why?

  1. This is a great question.

    As the mother of an 8 year old and a 5 year old, I do like to expose them to nicer restaurants on occasion. However, I also enjoy going out with my husband alone, and if I've bothered to get a babysitter for my own children, I certainly don't want to be deal with someone else's.

    When we do go to a nicer establishment with my children though, we try and do it earlier, so as to have the best chance of not disturbing other' during a "date night". 5 pm is the latest we'd go, and we try and go during the week instead of a weekend.

    Maybe instead of outright banning children, there could be child-free hours. Perhaps on the weekends after 8 pm or so. Sounds reasonable to me.

    1. Patrons of a fine-dining establishment should not have to tolerate poorly behaved children. But neither should they have to tolerate poorly behaved adults.

      Unfortunately, there are a few people who cannot or will not moderate their own behavior or that of their offspring. It's a tough call for a manager, but there comes a point when a patron needs to be told to shape up or get out.

      But people shouldn't generally be excluded from a public accommodation because of the management's preconceived notions regarding how they might behave. There is no direct correlation between deportment and age, gender, or ethnicity.

      There are exceptions to this general rule. For example, it's completely appropriate to have an adults-only policy at a dinner theater with an adult-themed show. But unless there's some independent reason to exclude them, well-behaved kids should be welcomed. How else will they learn to behave in a nice restaurant, and thus grow up to be well-behaved adults?

      26 Replies
      1. re: alanbarnes

        I think you've really hit upon some important points (and stated them quite eloquently!), especially the notion that groups of people shouldn't be excluded solely b/c of preconceived ideas about what their behavior might be due to some marker of identity. As you ably suggest, bad behavior abounds in all age, race, class, and sexual categories.

        As a rule, I am cautious when private establishments seek to exclude an entire group of people based upon these types of categorization.

        1. re: alanbarnes

          "Patrons of a fine-dining establishment should not have to tolerate poorly behaved children. But neither should they have to tolerate poorly behaved adults."

          Regardless of whether it's fine dining or not, patrons should not have to tolerate poorly behaved guests of any age. Many parents and guests don't believe they're out of hand, and ignore even obvious looks from surrounding tables where annoyance is clear.

          That said, I was annoyed when I wasn't allowed to take my friends and their (well behaved) children to the Civic Orchestra, because the rule had just been added that no children under the age of 8 were allowed (mind you, this is the training orchestra for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with a format based on educating the audience, with free tickets).

          1. re: Caralien

            Two things

            First, you are absolutely correct about 'lesser' restaurants. There is no reason that I should be expected to endure poorly behaved children in any restaurant that does not end in E. Cheese.

            Second, your experience at the symphony is a terrible shame. We started taking our child to family orchestra concerts when he was a preschooler but we were prepared to take him out if he made even a peep. He did not. However we attended a concert this season with two BABIES (approx six months!) sitting behind us who gurgled, cooed and guffawed until another patron finally asked the parents to take them out. I was distressed that there is not a rule excluding children under two and that the ushers didn't intervene to resolve the problem.

            1. re: Kater

              People with babies probably think that any HAPPY noise is OK, but just because it is not crying does not mean it is not distracting.

              Whether happy baby sounds are categorically worse than your average inane cell phone conversation might be debated, but baby babble is not as cute when it is not your baby. Some parents may be in denial of this.

              1. re: babette feasts

                You are absolutely correct. We were dining with all of our children this afternoon in an upscale Mexican cafe. My not quite 2 year old persisted in singing and making happy noise (very loud!!)and I promptly took her on a walk while waiting for our food. There were many couples in the otherwise quiet restaurant and I did not want to disturb their meal with my little babbler. To me any noise outside of the normal level be it phone conversation (so rude!) or a loud child is irritating and should be dealt with in a similar manner. The "offender" should be asked to step outside to complete the conversation or baby babble (sp?)

              2. re: Kater

                Orchestras, operas, ballets, etc. have had to start making these rules because parents (like those of the "cooing babies" above) are so oblivious. They think that what doesn't bother them, couldn't possibly be obnoxious to anyone else.

                I haven't been to a performance of the The Nutcracker in decades - since my own children were young. They knew better than to stand on seats so they could see and yell "Hey, Mom, why is that girl standing on her tippy toes?"
                I swore never to attend again unless and until there is an adults-only performance somewhere.
                Two year olds do not belong at the ballet or in fine restaurants while their parents enjoy a two hour meal.
                Get a baby sitter.

            2. re: alanbarnes


              As usual, you make a fine point with, "Patrons of a fine-dining establishment should not have to tolerate poorly behaved children. But neither should they have to tolerate poorly behaved adults."

              Well said,


              1. re: alanbarnes

                Well said, alanbarnes. You took the words out of my mouth.

                1. re: alanbarnes

                  I couldn't agree more. My four year old does perfectly fine in a fine-dining establishment. He talks more quietly than most adults, and sits and quietly colors for most of the meal, stopping every now and again to ask us what the latest course is.

                  If parents can't keep their kids under control, ask them to leave. But don't punish me for someone else's poor behavior (and make no mistake, a child misbehaving in a restaurant is the parents' fault - if you know your kid won't do well in a restaurant, don't take him there).

                  1. re: Indirect Heat

                    Not to be snarky, but if your kid sits and colors the whole time, what's the point of bringing him?

                    I have acquaintances who are always saying, "My little Johnny is so good in restaurants. We just bring his portable DVD player/video game/etc. and you'd never know he's there". Little Johnny isn't good in restaurants, he's just easily entertained.

                    1. re: invinotheresverde

                      You're absolutely right. We should leave our 4-year old at home. Or in the hotel. Or in the car. Drop him off at the park? Perhaps we could just leave him the keys to the car, and give him some cash for a movie. Believe it or not, but getting a babysitter isn't always possible (indeed, we do most of our fine dining while travelling, and we don't travel with a babysitter).

                      In all seriousness, childhood is a training period for how to be a good adult. Part of that is learning how to behave in restaurants. Part of that is learning to eat new things. Some of our friends say their 14-year old kids "won't eat that stuff", when they've never tried, because they only ever take their kids to McDonald's for the Happy Meal. My son eats all kinds of stuff, and likes it, because we take him nice places. But I also can't expect him to sit in a restaurant for three hours and discuss the finer points of Sartres while sipping Cava. After all, he's four. So we meet him half way. We bring him to the places that we like, and we expect him to behave. But we also make it easy for him to behave for long periods, by bringing him things he would like to do, and can do without bothering anyone.

                      You can't just start taking your kids out when they're fourteen and expect them to behave. You have to teach them. And that can start at *any* age (the earlier you start, the easier it is).

                      1. re: Indirect Heat

                        "Start as you plan to go" is some of the best parenting advice we received. Our dear child is only 18 months old, and haven't tried "fine" dining with him yet. But even when we go to a not-so-fine place, if he is acting up we remove him from the situation and get our food to go (it only happened once, and it turned out he was at the beginning of a stomach bug).

                        1. re: Indirect Heat

                          "getting a babysitter isn't always possible"

                          Then you make do w/o doing the things that you want to do. That's part of the deal of having a kid, sometimes you're going to have to face some serious crimps in your lifestyle.

                            1. re: jgg13

                              "Then you make do w/o doing the things that you want to do. That's part of the deal of having a kid, sometimes you're going to have to face some serious crimps in your lifestyle."

                              I should wear a burka and hide my face in shame until he's 20? No thanks. If my child is quiet and seated, I don't see why I should hide in shame. Indeed, what is it exactly about a quiet, seated child that offends you? What is it about parents not sufficiently "sacrificing" that offends you?

                              There's nothing wrong with bringing kids into fine dining restaurants. There's *everything* wrong with letting children misbehave in restaurants. The fact that some folks can't see the difference is contributing to the problem, in an "Oh, kids just behave like that" way. No, they don't. Children who are expected to run around and are allowed to run around will behave that way. If you tolerate it, they'll do it. We don't tolerate it. My 4-year old doesn't leave his seat, except to go to the bathroom. My 4-year old doesn't speak even one-quarter as loud as the guffawing woman sitting over by the window. Given that's the case, why would anyone object to the presence of my child in a restaurant. Odours? His offensive cute cheeks? That picture that he's quietly colouring at the table?

                              This idea that children don't belong in fine dining establishments is an entirely American idea. Go to a fancy place in Italy, and you'll see whole families dining together, and the kids behaving extremely well. Kids will do what's expected of them. If they're expected to run rampant (which is what it sounds like you expect), they will.

                                1. re: Indirect Heat

                                  Can jfood use this in the future, brilliantlky written.

                            2. re: invinotheresverde

                              the point is to sit and have a meal with the family. where everyone is doing what they like, in harmony. I wouldn't expect a 4 year old to share in all my dinner conversation any more than i expect you to help hir color in a barney coloring book. I'm not doing the same thing my child does all the time - does that mean i shouldn't want to share the same space with him at those times?

                              1. re: thew

                                My confusion lies with parents who insist on bringing their child to a fine dining establishment and them do everything in their power to keep him occupied with movies/books/games. I just don't see the point (except for some of the situations like Friedberg mentioned above, where a sitter isn't feasible). Maybe because I don't have kids, I don't fully understand.

                                1. re: invinotheresverde

                                  a kid does not have the same focus, needs, or attention span as an adult - nor should they. But families like to spend time as families. And they should be able to do so in good restaurants if that is their wont. A kid may not be able to sit still for a 2 hour meal. so a coloring book might be the best way to keep that kid from becoming the kid everyone is dreading in this thread.

                                  what i'm not getting is why this is an issue for you. what is it you arent getting?

                                  1. re: thew

                                    And to add a bit to your reply, it's also the way you teach your child about what the pleasures and responsibilities are when you go out to dinner at places that range from fine dining on down. Children learn a great deal by observing. The take it in smaller bites (if you will) than adults. With parents who will be alert to the needs of their children, along with the other patrons who are eating within ear shot of their child, it's a nice way to get the educational process of how to dine out started at an early age.

                                  2. re: invinotheresverde


                                    Let jfood try his usual analogy. Do you remember the first time you went to the theatre, or the Philharmonic or an Opera? Did you understand or appreciate it? Then over time, one of these three may have become a passion and you formed your own opinions on each. Little jfoods have been going to nice restaurants since they were very little and were able to handle the exposure. Now they have 20+ years of experience (only a few years less than their age) and are perfect ladies because they were exposed to it at such an early age.

                                    Jfood also has the same theory on alcohol. If you take the mystery out of it at an early age, when they reach 21, it is not so important to binge.

                                    So far so good on both, knock on wood.

                                    Hope that helps.

                                    1. re: jfood

                                      I agree with you on the alcohol. As part of a culture that allows children to imbibe small amounts of alcohol on a weekly basis, from the cradle, it seems like our kids are far less likely to go crazy as teens or adults, and there's much less wonton drunkenness.

                                      1. re: KosherHound

                                        thats part of the dutch rationale with coffee shops..... that and a huge income from taxation and influx of tourist dollars

                                    2. re: invinotheresverde

                                      I agree with the 'fine dining experience' you're referring to and children having to spend, what must seem to them, endless hours of eating. Bringing along coloring books or whatever the child likes is always intelligent.
                                      However, that being said, I've always been the type of parent who feels it's necessary to teach children how to respect the space of others in the restaurant, whether it be 5 star or the taco joint down the street. If my child ever began to get restless and began to complain he/she was taken out of the restaurant and it was explained why it happened and how their behavior was rude and how it affected the other people in the restaurant. They eventually learned how to behave and it didn't take long but the lesson required going to the restaurant to begin with.
                                      Parents who allow their precious children to run havoc, or make unnecessary and annoying noises at the expense of other diners who are spending time and money to enjoy themselves is, to me, one of the rudest types of behavior and I always blame the parents.

                                      1. re: latindancer

                                        Agreed. Children behaving badly in public spaces is always the parents' fault.

                            3. Hi:

                              Threads on whether or not children should be allowed in certain restaurants, etc., don’t usually go very well, in our experience. We’re willing to give this one a try as long as the discussion remains civil and posters don’t start attacking other posters or their opinions. Please help us with this; otherwise we’ll have to lock or remove the thread.

                              Thank you.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: The Chowhound Team

                                Just looking down at the replies (and up too), I think that all are well within the spirit of CH and the discussion is going well. Yes, there might be some differences, but everyone seems to be making their points, though possibly diverging, in a very civil manner - just as children should behave, when in a restaurant.

                                Other similar threads migh have gotten out of hand, but this one seems to be a great discussion, and very CH-worthy.

                                Just my observations,


                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                  I agree with you, Bill. I could see this spinning out of control but it hasn't and has made good points Yay for us :)

                              2. There used to be a fairly upscale restaurant in Indianapolis that banned children. Tried to take my 2 teenagers there for LUNCH and we were turned away. Couldn't believe. I really liked the food at this place, but never went back.

                                On the other hand, I'd never take kids to a "romantic" restaurant, as I feel this would definitely detract from the ambiance.

                                I think it's always best to call ahead and speak with the management. This is a good time to enquire about availability of foods/portion sizes that would appeal to your child.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: pikawicca

                                  I don't think that's uncommon in Indiana due to the strict alcohol laws. Sometimes if the restaurant isn't set up correctly, it will be labeled a bar instead of a restaurant and children aren't allowed in.

                                  1. re: queencru

                                    We eat out a lot, and that's the first and only time I encountered this. This establishment had a bar, but it was in a room separate from the dining rooms.

                                    1. re: pikawicca

                                      I had a similar problem with a restaurant in Indy some 13 years ago. I think it was definitely a restaurant, but they said something about the alcohol consumption in the restaurant preventing them from letting anyone under 18 in even with a parent. I did not get to go in, but I found it hard to believe that the bar in such a large place was not separated from the restaurant.

                                  2. re: pikawicca

                                    Is it still there? Can you give me a heads up if it is? Mine aren't old enough that I'd attempt even "fairly" upscale yet, but I don't think I want to go anywhere that can't tolerate teenagers in any case.

                                  3. Twenty years ago when DD was an infant, we brought her to a Saturday lunch at a very nice restaurant in Wilmette near Lake Michigan. It was definitely a white glove affair with elderly matrons sporting blue hair. We were nicely dressed as well, although modern. Being a baby, we sat her in a high chair where she did not scream or make loud noises but managed to pour her milk over her pretty party dress and spill some Cherrios on the floor. When the time came to order dessert, we indicated to our waiter we would like to have the dessert menu. Instead, we were informed that at the request of their usual elderly clientele and management, we were asked to finish our lunch and leave immediately, no dessert for us.

                                    Please remember this was Saturday lunch. I called the hotel manager/owner later to ensure awareness of our treatment. The manager/owner said that the hostess who seated us was disciplined as we should never have received a table in the first place! Under my breath, I cursed the restaurant and management thinking their elderly clientele would surely die off and then they would be left with nothing.

                                    But, kismet! Within a couple of months, the restaurant burned to the ground after a grease fire and the chef/owner couple had triplets! I guess they learned their lesson about bringing babies to restaurants.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                      We often brought our daughter to restaurants when she was still in a high chair, and usually on Friday nights. She was able to stay up because she slept late in the mornings, which we had worked out with her nanny so that we could spend time with her when we got home from work. I couldn't bear the idea of putting her to bed at 7:30 after I got home at 6:30.

                                      Overall, she was great and was drinking milk out of a wine glass before long. If she was even the slightest out of sorts, I scooped her up and brought her outside, where, if she was up to it, we discussed what behavior was expected if she wanted to go back in. She ALWAYS wanted to go back in because being with adults was a thrill for her. It didn't always work out, but it usually did.

                                      On the basis of that experience, I could not accept a restaurant posting a "no children" policy unless it was related to alcohol service or after a late hour -- say 9:00 or so. I am so glad that we were able to bring her everywhere, and I believe that experience helped her learn how to behave. We were regular patrons of many "adult" restaurants that welcomed her, and naturaly stayed away from places that only offered adult food and who couldn't offer a decent high chair.

                                      There are a lot of unruly kids and exhausted parents out there, and they often don't want to cook at the end of a long day or week, so they end up in family style restaurants that offer crayons and kids' meals. If the restaurant doesn't offer kid portions or meals, the issue will probably take care of itself. Let's face it -- most kids are not going to eat foie gras or lobster and most parents are not going to take them to a restaurant where sophisticated and expensive food is all that is on the menu.

                                      I agree with alanbarnes -- we shouldn't exclude a whole class of patron because of preconceived notions. Frankly, some of the worst dining experiences I have ever had were with my late MIL, who suffered from dementia and could be counted on to say embarrassing things about other people quite loudly. I think most parents can read the restaurant as being accommodating to children or not by looking at the menu, the atmosphere, the availability of child seats and the clientele. Most would rather go to a kid-friendly place in the first place.

                                      1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                        Did they provide the high chair? Why would they have one if they didn't allow babies?