Banning Kids From Restaurants: A Slippery Slope1
A few months ago, there were several national restaurant chains that found themselves in the media spot light for reasons they would have preferred to avoid: serving alcohol to kids by accident. Last year a North Carolina restaurant posted a sign that read “screaming children will not be tolerated.” Just this week a Pennsylvania restaurant announced his ban for any children under the age of 6.
When the alcohol incidents occured, I refrained from comment – I used to work in restaurants and understand how it can happen. Although they were terrible accidents, they served as long-overdue wake up calls for some places to change their operational procedures. Then when the North Carolina restaurant posted their sign, I quietly provided my opinion on the matter. However, with the latest publicity from poor handling of situations with customers with kids, it’s time I weighed in.
As a kid-friendly restaurant consultant, I work with restaurants to help them realize the value of the family consumer, what it means to the bottom line and how easy it really is to serve this customer and make their employees and other customers all happy at the same time. I’m not trying to sell anything, it’s just the way it is and I know so from many years of research and conversation with parents who take kids out to eat as well as the restaurants that serve them. So as The Restaurant Mom, industry consultant, a voice for the consumer, and mom of 2, I see both sides of the idea of banning kids from restaurants.
On MyKidsPlate we fully recognize that there are kid-friendly restaurants, there are restaurants better for what we call grown ups night out, and there are restaurants that are a hybrid of both. Patronage of restaurants is determined by consumers on many things including the food, the atmosphere, and the location. Some restaurants are located in areas that have higher demographics of seniors, for example. Some restaurants are pretty clearly, by their branding and atmosphere, not geared for dining with young kids and that’s ok too. Different strokes for different folks, right?
To some extent I agree with the Pennsylvania restaurant owner that some parents have become ‘too selfish’ and think this is their world and the rest of us are living in it. I’ve seen those parents myself who let their kids run all over the place, scream and holler, and the like. However, I am getting really tired of hearing people from the non-kid population put all parents with kids into this proverbable bucket that all kids act in such a way. The reality is that it’s not all parents with kids that go out to eat and in fact, it’s less than you would think. But because the ones that are so loud or out of control are so noticeable, it seems bigger than it really is.
Restaurants have a dual role when it comes to serving the public: it’s providing good food but in an environment that the people eating it want to be served in. Consumers today are more individualistic than they’ve ever been, putting themselves into their own social groups. This can be seen clearly through social media especially on Facebook and tools like Meetup. The point is that restaurants have been slow to change their marketing strategies to be geared more specifically to the consumers they want in their restaurants. These different consumer groups have different hot buttons about where they want to eat, what they want to eat, and how they want to enjoy it.
In many cases of kids being loud or running around, it’s because they’re bored. If some of these restaurant experiences weren’t so boring, you wouldn’t see as many kids distracting the other guests through their noise or behavior. You hear it all the time, we are in a media overloaded world. Is there really any doubt as to why going out to eat at a boring restaurant can be boring for today’s kid? If restaurants don’t want kids running around and ‘being loud’ than turn up the volume, literally and figuratively. Restaurants that want families as customers (they do spend more than diners without kids) should be doing certain easy things to enhance the experience for the kids which ultimately makes it better for everyone else. Activity sheets are a good place to start but if they are lame, it’s pointless. Sports bar themed restaurant are popular because they are noisy. But if a restaurant doesn’t want families with kids, then it’s the restaurant’s responsibility to create that environment within the restaurant. A ban based on age for an entire population is inappropriate and over the top. Ultimately it is a punishment for those parents who do their job in teaching their kids how to behave and act appropriately.
Last year I was contacted by a mom who said she was banned from a Chicago area restaurant because her kid was crying. When I contacted the restaurant to get more information, I ultimately heard the “two sides” of the story. In this case, the restaurant manager asked the mom to step outside with the crying child because she was getting complaints from other people in the restaurant. That is how it should be handled and done so with dignity and respect. Each restaurant should have a policy for how they will handle those situations and be consistent with it, not discriminatory. Banning people, based on age or for any other reason is a slippery slope we should not go back down. Seniors can’t be banned based on their age. Do we really need to go there with kids? Personally, I think there is a better approach.
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As a mom to a seven-year-old, I can understand that banning kids from restaurants won’t do anyone any good. My frustration is with the families who let their kids behave like wild things in a restaurant or any public place. I think these families should stay home if their kids can’t behave like humans. Even my seven-year-old daughter is frustrated when she has to be seated in the ‘family’ section of restaurants and hear screaming kids. I think a restaurant has the right to ask a family to remove their child or children who can’t behave. If their child gets bored, the family can bring books or toys to help them get over their boredom. Or better yet–eat at home.