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Should restaurants ban kids? Maybe not, but it's time for a line to be drawn

Let’s face it: the current politically correct, free-for-all approach isn’t working.

Claire Micks

MANY YEARS AGO, well before I had kids, I remember attending an extended family gathering on a Sunday morning. I was tired, hungover and not entirely enthused about the prospect of making conversation with distant relatives.

When I arrived and realised I was going to have to sit next to my five-year-old second cousin, it was only the presence of my 97-year-old grandfather that stopped me from walking straight out of the place.

I remember thinking to myself:

So, how’s crèche going these days? Yeah, that Montessori work can be a bitch, can’t it?

And I doubt very much that my pint-sized relative had much interest in talking to me either.

Fond memories

By contrast, I have very fond childhood memories of being let loose on TK, jelly and ice cream on the kids’ table at such family gatherings. Was that not a better approach, allowing both groups to run riot in their own individual, age-appropriate way?

The social etiquette of the time dictated that adults enjoyed adult company, and kids enjoyed kids, so co-eating wasn’t even contemplated.

Mixing generations

Then, sometime in the past 30 odd years, it became de rigueur to mix the generations. Expected even.

And while on one level, it does mean that parents who might not want to be separated from their kids get the benefit of attending social occasions en famille, the set-up inevitably leads to resentment among fellow dinners.

Take the recent case of the cafe owner in the States who took it upon herself to scream at a crying child, after her parents had ignored her.

It has made headlines internationally precisely because it touches upon a not very often discussed social norm, and the owner’s actions understandably polarised opinion.

Exercising good judgement

But, in reality, was the owner not just articulating openly what every other punter in the restaurant was presumably thinking?

She later said she was not sorry for what had happened, but admitted that she had exercised “poor judgement” in her actions.

And isn’t that precisely the point of the whole sorry debacle? The need to exercise good judgement, on both sides, and appreciate that a child’s right to be seen has to be balanced with everyone else’s right to enjoy a coffee in peace.

Terrified businesses

Presumably terrified of any backlash, most Irish restaurants and cafes generally don’t have official policies on children (of the explicit variety anyway – dirty looks and being studiously ignored from behind the counter don’t count).

There was the case a few months back of a young mother and her 16-month-old daughter being asked to leave a Dublin 4 restaurant because it didn’t allow kids in during the lunchtime rush. A few damning headlines predictably followed.

However, at least in that case, the restaurant had a clear policy, unfortunate as it may have been for poor unsuspecting mother who wandered blindly into the middle of it. If more establishments were transparent about the issue, at least then we’d all know what to expect.

Figuring it out

There are clear pointers that the less sleep deprived among us will generally notice. A no buggy policy is hard to miss. Equally, the absence of a kiddie menu, or a changing table, is a bit of a giveaway.

Anywhere where patrons are well dressed and likely to send you on the dry cleaning bill if young Johnny sees fit to chuck his pasta their direction should be considered a no-no. But then there are the in-betweeners, which can be somewhat trickier to gauge.

For new parents in particular, unused to running the gauntlet of dining with any more than a smartphone to mind, figuring out what’s acceptable and what’s not can’t be easy.

To be fair, a quiet baby can, quite literally, be forgotten about in a restaurant – and cause much less noise than the hen party in the corner downing the Cava all afternoon. But, unfortunately, policies that say that good kids will be tolerated, while spoilt brats won’t, can be somewhat difficult to enforce in practice.

But there are undoubtedly parents out there who let their kids run riot, making all around very uncomfortable.

It poses an especially tricky challenge to the long-suffering wait staff are expected to skillfully dodge little kamikaze kids running riot as they try to serve boiling hot drinks.

Ground rules

Personally, I have always tried to gauge each situation on its individual circumstances, and I have no qualms whatsoever about evacuating a scene if the kids get out of hand. This I take to be an occupational hazard, and part of the cost of trying to have a child and some semblance of a life at the same time.

Are there any solutions to promote peaceful co-existence? Kid-friendly zones or times in restaurants and cafes? Or better still, more kid-friendly restaurants? Priority ordering for families in restaurants?

These kind of options need to be looked at, because let’s face it: if recent headlines have told us anything, it’s that the current politically correct, free-for-all approach isn’t working.

If we accept that families are allowed to venture beyond their own front doors every once and a while, we need to have proper ground rules laid out once and for all.

Claire Micks is an occasional writer. Read her columns for TheJournal.ie here.

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Claire Micks

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