To ban or not to ban, that is the question…
April 14, 2016

Should a cafe or restaurant be able to ban children?

What? What’s going on? No yummy food? If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ll know that it’s not all meals and recipes, but the occasional bit of serious chat, from sustainability to my post on Huntington’s Disease and eating. This is another one – something I felt compelled to write about after I came across it mainly because it’s such a talking point and has caused so much upset. I can genuinely see both sides of the argument and am intrigued to know what everyone else thinks.

Imagine this – an independent cafe opens up in a town, offering snacks, lunches, drinks and coffees, welcoming one and all from couples to friends to families. It becomes a firm favourite with some, less so for others, but enjoys a busy trade from all sorts of people – pensioners looking for a coffee, office workers on a quick lunch, mums meeting up with their little ones in tow.

And then one day something changes. When parents arrive with their sprogs they’re told that children are no longer allowed. The reason given is “licensing laws” and they’re told that unfortunately they can’t bring them in.

Banning children in restaurants

Cue uproar and plenty of angry people. Some are angry because their fave meeting place is suddenly off-limits. For some it seems they’re more annoyed by the mixed messages, whether it be the age under which children can’t come in, or the reason why their offspring are suddenly unwelcome, a kind of: ‘at least tell us the truth’ attitude. And then, also, there’s the small minority who choose to take the argument to the end of the line – that it’s ultimately about equality. We’re all equal so we all have a right to go in and if you ban children, where do you stop?

It’s not the first time this issue has arisen. Last year, Lobster Pound and Moore in Cape Breton Island, Canada, sparked controversy when it banned children. La Fraschetta del Pesce, in Rome’s Pigneto district, has also banned children under five.  And the issue’s even been aired by outspoken Janet Street-Porter who is, or was at least late last year, in favour of banning kids from cafes and restaurants.

So who’s right and who’s wrong?

I don’t blimin’ know, but I reckon it’s worth looking into because it’s pretty darn interesting.

Now personally, I don’t have children and to be honest, if I’ve nipped out of work for a quiet coffee with a friend, or my mum’s come to meet me for a spot of lunch, the last thing I want is a screaming child next to me.

I’m not saying that’s fair. I’m not saying it means kids should be banned from cafes and pubs everywhere. It just means that personally I don’t mind if there’s a place that I can guarantee is adults-only. I’ve been on adults-only holidays (not THOSE kind, just the ones where kids don’t go), adults-only hotels, restaurants where children aren’t allowed after a certain time in the evening. They’re havens for people who don’t necessarily want to socialise with babies, toddlers and cute little kids whose interest in Peppa Pig trumps that of the Panama Papers.

Should children be banned from restaurants?

That’s my preference, but I accept that not everyone feels like me. And as a ‘woman of childbearing age’ who has plenty of friends with cute little sproglets and all the trials and tribulations they bring (yeah, yeah, I know they bring plenty of happiness too), I can imagine that it must be pretty annoying if you find somewhere you can take your kids, meet with your pals, have a family day out and then suddenly you’re no longer welcome.

I also get that it must be even more aggravating to feel that perhaps you’re not being told the truth about why that’s suddenly become the case. Nobody likes to feel like someone’s hiding the real reason for a decision. So is that the issue?

I’m no expert on licensing laws so maybe it is the case that they’re behind the decision to no longer allow kids. Maybe it’s a completely bona fide reason and the owners are as upset at the loss of the little people as some of their customers are. Or maybe it is an excuse, a smoke-screen hiding another reason for banning children. And part of me thinks, so what if it is?

After all, restaurants and cafes aren’t publicly-owned enterprises (not in this context anyway). They’re privately-run businesses – they’re entitled to choose which customers they want to prioritise over others. Maybe the owners of this cafe reckon it will benefit their business more to bar kids. Maybe they’ve decided that their target audience is people who want to go somewhere that’s tailored to adults. You get kid’s cafes, so why can’t you have adults ones? After all,  you could argue that in most towns you’ve got plenty enough cafes and kid-friendly zones that it probably doesn’t matter if one doesn’t allow children.

“But hey”, call the voices, “where do you stop? Are you saying that a business owner could ban someone who’s gay, black, old, or disabled, because ‘that’s their prerogative’?” No, I’m not. But once you start asking those kind of questions, it makes me think twice about how you can say it’s okay to ban children but not anyone else who doesn’t happen to fit in with the kind of clientele you want. Is it any different?

So that leaves me not being sure what I think (as is the case with so many things). Personally, I don’t mind if there’s somewhere for people like me – you know, the grumpy non-maternal types – to go and have a coffee and a waffle (of both types – lolz) without the noise and chaos (and yeah yeah, I know, ‘fun’) that children bring. But just because it appeals to me, I’m more than aware that that doesn’t mean it’s right, or fair, or what everyone else wants.

I don’t know what the answer is – legally, morally, or in business terms for an eaterie or drinkerie. But when a subject sparks such heated discussion, and keeps coming back, I reckon it’s one to be looked at.

So come on, what do you think?

10 thoughts on “To ban or not to ban, that is the question…

  1. I have recently had this exact conversation with one of my sisters! We are both mothers of toddlers, but I am very much in favour of having places I can go to without children around, to work, enjoy a catch up, etc, whereas my sister thinks it’s awful to ban children. I feel that children are an acceptable ‘group’ to ban – particularly if the age range (under 10’s, etc) is made clear and the atmosphere isn’t child friendly. It’s not the same as banning a group of adults based on race, sexual preference or whatever else. Interested to hear what people think!

    1. Thanks Amelia, think you helped out with the bit I was stuck on. In my head I couldn’t pinpoint why children are an acceptable group compared to other groups – maybe it’s because being children is a temporary situation ie they’ll grow up, as opposed to being banned based on their race, sexual preference etc, that won’t be changing anytime soon. Interesting!

  2. As a mum of two, on the very rare occasion that the planets align and we have a babysitter, have something to celebrate and fancy leaving the house after 7pm, I would be less than impressed to go out for dinner only to find myself enduring someone else’s toddler having a tantrum or six. Eating out used to be commonplace for me (and my husband) but doing so these days is a huge treat so, yes, I’d prefer not to be surrounded by high chairs and small people clamouring for ice cream. Having said that, I am an advocate of introducing children to restaurants, cafes and the behaviour expected of them when eating out. I’m not talking fine dining but the occasional cafe pit stop or lunchy n a family friendly pub or restaurant.

    1. I think this is really interesting. I suppose I’m aware that being a non-parent makes me a bit biased against little ones. Interesting to hear that mums enjoy a chance to escape too. Then again, I agree that children need to be taught at some stage how to behave when out and about and the only way to do that is to take them out and about 🙂

  3. Great post, as ever, Ellen.

    I am with you. I think it should be up to the owner of the establishment as to whether or not they want kids in there.

    I am not a fan of kids in restaurants, that said, I find its the parents that allow their kids to crawl around on the floor, jump on the seats, (hang off curtains), and generally misbehave are the real issue. You see this a lot in pubs – the parents are too interested in pretending they don’t have kids.

    As a parent, with 4 kids, (now grown up), I have always tried to be considerate of other diners. If one of mine started misbehaving, I would leave the pub/cafe/restaurant there and then – its unfair on the other diners. Unfortunately, I don’t appear to be a typical case?

    1. Thanks Simon. I read an article about someone who had taken their very small baby to Le Manoir where a rude fellow diner apparently declared that they thought the child would probably ruin the meal. The baby slept through the whole time whereas the man went on to be noisy, rude, and generally spoil other people’s experience. So with that kind of anecdote in mind, I wonder if maybe the issue is selfishness, whether that be selfish adults who behave badly themselves, or selfish adults who don’t bother to control their children?

  4. As a parent, I was going to say exactly what Jo has; just because we have kids doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate time without them!

    A cafe that has to stick that blunt a sign on its door either (a) isn’t meeting its customers’ understanding of what kind of establishment it is (or wants to be); or (b) doesn’t understand its market or customer base. In other words, there are plenty of ways you can indicate that this isn’t the type of place to take your rowdy kids into without resorting to a sign on the door; but if your customers don’t pick up those clues, or if despite all the clues you still have parents bringing their kids in then you need to rethink your business strategy.

    Yes, kids can be annoying, but so can a lot of things; and I think we have to be really careful about what is acceptable to be able to outright ban.

    The licensing laws bit is a misnomer – there is no restriction on young people under 16 entering licensed premises unless they are unaccompanied, and then only when the venue is primarily or exclusively for the sale of alcohol; cafes and restaurants would be unlikely to fall under that definition (a pub which serves food is a bit more of a grey area). Although licensing rules can be varied for each licensed premises, it would be highly unlikely that a cafe that served alcohol would have such a strict restriction unless there were very specific circumstances.

    1. Thanks Olly – this relates to what has come up in some other discussions I’ve had about this, where some people have said that they didn’t think it’s fair for a place to enjoy a certain group’s custom when it suits, then suddenly decide they’re not welcome.

  5. I am all for eating with your kids in restaurants. For me it’s all part of the enjoyment. My kids are now big grown up boys but they have always eaten out with us. It’s how they learn manners, enjoyment of food, conversation and social skills. However, when they were little I never took them out really late as I was aware that can be grown up time.

    We must encourage our kids to eat out with us but also we must respect other diners. I love being with my kids, I like them as well as love them so why wouldn’t I want to eat with them.

    Great post that promotes thinking and commenting. Well done you for tackling such a piece. Elinor x

    1. Thanks Elinor, appreciate your comments. I just think it’s really interesting. I agree that having children dine with you, whether that be out or at home, is how they learn how to dine out – sitting at the table, making conversation, enjoying food. But I imagine the parents who think that stuff is important are the ones who will also respect their fellow diners. Thank you for commenting 🙂

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