Do kids belong out late in adult restaurants?

April 21, 2014

(Flickr/Jason Lander)
Some restaurants enforce a no-kids policy but many people believe it depends on the kids’ behavior.

A man and a wife and their kid walk into a restaurant bar. The host looks at them and says ‘we’re not seating couples with children at this time.’ So the sad family packs up and finds some place else to eat.

This was the decidedly unfunny scenario faced by two Chicago area parents recently when they tried to eat at one of their favorite restaurants. They asked that we leave out their names because they’d like dine there again--when they find a babysitter, of course.

Many thought that’s what the parents of the, now notorious, Alinea baby should have done earlier this year, when their child’s dining room crying was heard around the world---thanks to a perplexed tweet by chef Grant Achatz on the matter.

Still, for many parents, including former New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl, the issue is not so cut and dried.

“I think it depends on the kid,” she says. “If you are a parent who goes out with your child and your kid starts fussing, you take the child out. That’s all there is to it. It's that easy. But I would be deeply offended if I took my child to a restaurant and I was told no you can’t come in.”

Chicago’s Hopleaf Bar owner Michael Roper has enforced a no-kids rule at his establishment for nearly a decade. He believes the city needs places where grown-ups can enjoy grown-up drinks--for example, his wide selection of craft beers that happen to pair beautifully with his menu of sausages, seafood and smoked meat.
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“We are a bar. We call ourselves the Hopleaf Bar,” Roper recently said on WBEZ. “There are places that are bar-like but they are more like restaurants. It’s not as if there’s no place else to go with your kid. There are a lot of places and many of those places the kids actually prefer.”

But does he ever get grief from customers over the rule?

“We get some pushback but it’s surprising,” he says. “We actually get mostly support, even from parents with children. They like to have a place to go. Sometimes people need to have an adult space.”

Mei-Ling Hopgood is a Chicago area mom who raised her oldest child in Buenos Aires. In her book “How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm” Hopgood details her initial shock at what seemed like crazy hours for kids to be in restaurants in Argentina. 

“It would be 11 or 12 o’clock and they’d be running around the pizzeria or the grill,” she recently said on WBEZ’s Worldview. “It was an extension of the cultures from which they came--Spain and Italy where people just eat later and the idea that you would not eat dinner with your child is really unthinkable in many ways.”

Those kinds of careening children may be exactly what some restaurants are trying to avoid with the no-kid rules says a former server Cindy who called into WBEZ’s Worldview saying, “They would run circles around my legs when I would have hot trays of food.”

Dining veteran Reichl says that she can see both sides of the issue and that there may be a simple solution. 

“In an ideal world, restaurants would have an area for children and all the people would bring their children and the children would go off and there would be someone to watch them and the kids would have a great time together,” she says. “Because, really, a five-year-old doesn’t want to listen to your boring conversation.”

So Chuck E Cheese meets Alinea? Who knows? It just might work. 

Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the Chewing The Fat podcast. Follow her at @monicaeng or write to her at meng@wbez.org