the food world has been abuzz lately with a new policy put in place by mike vuick, the owner of mcdain's casual dining restaurant in monroeville, pennsylvania. that policy? no children under the age of 6 allowed. ever. under any circumstances. as a parent of a young child and a lover of food and going out to eat, i feel compelled to comment.
1. just who the fuck (yes, i know. i have never used this word here, but this issue has my blood boiling.) do you think you are, mike vuick? mcdain's is NOT some pretentious, upscale fine dining establishment. their $12.95 beer battered chicken special, which is essentially a giant glorified chicken finger, is proof of that. mcdain's does not exactly strike me as a coat and tie, quiet candlelit dinner sort of joint.
2. the banning of children begs the obvious question of who is next, mr. vuick? you will not serve young children because of the few who are loud and ill behaved in restaurants. will you next ban foreigners because of the few who don't tip well? if enough white customers complain, will you ban minorities? it is a slippery slope.
3. this is just bad business. plain and simple. by banning children, you effectively ban their parents. nursing mothers, those who cannot afford a sitter on top of a meal out, and those who ENJOY THE COMPANY OF THEIR CHILDREN will choose to eat elsewhere. monroeville will contain an entire generation of people who never grew up eating at your restaurant, who have no memories of it or attachment to it. people long for the dishes, tastes and experiences of their youth when they eat. just watch the first 60 seconds of this video. animated or not, THIS IS WHY PEOPLE CHOOSE TO EAT WHAT THEY EAT.
i fancy myself a foodie (foodist? fouchebag?) of sorts, but the other day i bought white bread, american cheese and campbell's condensed tomato soup just to recreate my favorite childhood meal. my favorite restaurant at which to eat when i visit my folks is not some new, trendy place downtown. it is the small, slightly run-down, local place where i grew up eating. it is the place that serves the old standbys of duck with orange sauce and escargot. it is the place that poured my coke into a stemmed wine glass and, at 7 years old, made me feel like the most important person in the room. i cannot wait to bring my daughter there.
4. the issue is not the child, it is the behavior. danny meyer, a rather large name in the hospitality industry says it best: "If a child misbehaves or is a distraction, it's the parents' responsibility to remove them; if they don't, they are the ones with bad manners, not the kids. And if an adult misbehaves or drinks too much or annoys the other diners, it's the manager's job or the owner's job to address it. The issue isn't kids, it's behavior." the quote is from this article on time.com.
this, again, begs a different question. how can one expect a child to learn to behave in a restaurant if that child isn't given the chance? from the same time article: "If children aren't taught how to behave in a restaurant, and are just given chicken fingers everywhere they go, they'll never learn about food and they'll become obnoxious, rude patrons as adults."
as a young child, i went out to eat all the time with my parents. it was in restaurants that i learned to say "please" and "thank you" to my server. it was in these establishments that i learned how to sit still and behave. i learned how to relate to and speak to people much older than myself. i learned to LOVE food and the full sensory experience of eating a delicious meal in a public place. these experiences helped shape me into who i am today.
my daughter will grow up in restaurants. it is an unavoidable part of having a father in the fine dining industry. and i do mean FINE DINING. there is nothing "beer battered" at his place of employment. i expect her to learn how to conduct herself. danny meyers is correct, it is MY responsibility to teach her proper dining behavior and to remove her if she becomes disruptive. just as it would be mike vuick's responsibility to remove a drunken and disorderly patron.
i think the parents are the problem here. if your child has skipped his/her nap that day and is particularly fussy, eat at home. order take-out from the restaurant you had planned to go to. cook something. save yourself and others the stress of having a loud, clearly upset child present. don't wait until your kid is hungry to leave. be at the restaurant 15-20 minutes before your child's usual mealtime. if this isn't possible, feed your child a snack or a smaller dinner at home and then finish the meal out. and PLEASE don't bring a separate meal from home. servers are used to cleaning up the restaurant's food, but they will begrudge you the cheerios smashed into the floor. if your child's behavior is, despite your best efforts, out of your control then ask for your meal to go, tip well, clean up the mess and LEAVE. be respectful of the fact that people are paying their hard-earned money to eat out. you expect them to be respectful of the fact that this dinner out is the closest thing you've had to a night on the town in months. again, MANNERS and BEHAVIOR are key here. if you expect respect, show respect. know your child's limits.
now, i know some people have said that so-called "kid friendly" restaurants exist for a reason. if you want to eat out with your young children, go to t.g.i. mcfunsters (i have mr. bourdain to thank for that one.), crapplebees (that one's all me.) or some other such place. UM, NO. i don't want to eat there. i believe that the quality of the food is important. until more big chains jump on the local, organic, sustainable bandwagon, i'll keep eating elsewhere. i don't cook hormone-riddled beef for my child at home so why would i pay twice as much to have her eat it somewhere else? no thank you.
TANGENT IN 3, 2, 1...: you know, monroeville, pennsylvania is known as the place where the original "dawn of the dead" was filmed. the mall in which 90% of that movie takes place is, you guessed it, the monroeville mall. true story. no, i didn't google anything about monroeville. i just KNEW that little tidbit. isn't my knowledge of useless things astounding? NOW, back to the issue at hand. for me, what is really boils down to is this: i don't want my family status to be the deciding factor in where i can and cannot eat. just as i wouldn't want my race or religion to do the same. the whole thing feels decidedly berlin 1939 to me. is this a stretch? maybe. but i can't help but shake the feeling that this could lead to some real harm for the restaurant industry. it is an industry i love and have worked in. it is the livelihood of our family. i would hate to see one bad apple ruin the bunch.
what say you, readers? are you for or against mcdain's no children policy? i would love for your to voice your opinion in the comments!