Friday, July 15, 2011

Kid-Free Restaurant: A True Happy Meal?

I guess this is Restaurant Week over at the old Momsperiment homestead. Today's headline: a new no-kids policy initiated by a Pittsburgh eatery.

Children under 6 are just too noisy, owner Mike Vuick wrote in an email to fans of McDain's Restaurant and Golf Center. So out of consideration for patrons who'd rather not have their meal interrupted by tantrums or choruses of the Thomas the Tank Engine theme song, he created the ban.

Of course, there was a public outcry - but instead of crying foul, people are saying, "It's about time!" The 2,000 emails Vuick has gotten so far have been overwhelmingly positive, and a local poll supports him, too. One regular customer, mom of a toddler, canceled a family party she was planning to hold there, but she's by far in the minority. Seems diners think a child's rightful place is at McDonald's, not McDain's.

Now, I enjoy a quiet dinner as much as the next person. I also know how frustrating it is - both as a patron and a parent - when a child acts up in public. But a total ban? Pretty harsh. It suggests that the entire pre-K set is a nuisance to the world at large, and that all parents are irresponsible jerks who can't keep them under control. Even the North Carolina restaurant that established a no-screaming policy last year doesn't shut out toddlers; parents are simply asked to take the unruly one outside for a cool-down break.

Before this threatens to become a trend, maybe it's time for us parents to make a formal agreement with dining establishments that could be posted in the window in place of the "No Kids" sign. We'd promise to do our part to keep misbehavior to a minimum: not dining out too late at night or if the kids are sick or cranky; discouraging silverware wars and milk-bubble-blowing; taking an outdoor time-out at the first sign of whining and leaving if Meltdown Mode seems imminent. The restaurants, in turn, would vow to inform us of unexpected delays, provide options like bread baskets or serving the kids first, and remember the difference between happy child-chatter and outright screaming. (It's only fair; we have to put up with the diners at the next table arguing on their cell phones and sharing intimate details about their spleen surgery.)

Too formal? Too impractical? Maybe. But if it means not being limited to eateries with plastic utensils and nugget-intensive cuisine until my children go to college, I'm willing to give it a try.

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