baby

Should you be allowed to bring your screaming infant to a fancy restaurant?

Jan 14, 2014

This summer, I got into an-argument with some parents at a bar. It was a lovely day out and everyone wanted to sit outside. The patio was divided into a non-smoking section closer to the door, and a smoking section further away from it and both sections were pretty filled up. A family of four sat in the smoking section because that was the only available table outside at that moment, and then announced to the entire section that they would have to put their cigarettes out because of the children.

“Ma’am,” said I, in my best Julia Sugarbaker tone of voice, “This is the smoking section. You are in a bar. You have chosen to bring your children to a bar with a outside smoking section. There are other seats available inside. You can go sit in them. You can wait for a table to become available outside in the non-smoking section. There are other bars and restaurants that do not have outside smoking sections that you could go to. There are myriad options available to you should you not wish to expose your precious children to my second-hand smoke. However, given the ridiculous laws governing smoking in bars, this is one of the few places and times of the year in which I can comfortably enjoy a cocktail and a Camel, and I am going to take full advantage of it.”

She did not take that well. Not well at all. There may have been some screaming. Parents who take their children into adult spaces are already on the defense, I have learned. Most parents, my own included when I was a child, opt not to take their children into adult spaces, particularly when they are too young to behave properly in them. Those who do not, often give off an air of entitlement that tends to annoy the crap out of those who either don’t have children or did not bring their kids.

There was a bit of a scandal this weekend when a couple brought their 8 month-old infant to Alinea, a super high end restaurant in Chicago. The kind you have to buy tickets for to even get on the waiting list, and where your cheapest option is a $200 prix fixe menu that does not even include wine. It has three Michelin Stars, which is the highest amount of Michelin Stars you can have. Suffice it to say, I have never been. I think the closest I have ever been to anything Michelin-rated has been purchasing snow tires at Sears. Same company, weirdly.

The baby in question proceeded to cry and scream throughout the entire meal, upsetting other customers and prompting Chef Grant Achatz to ask the Twitterverse for advice on what to do about the situation.

Since then, there has been an uproar in what the Chicago Sun-Times refers to as the “food community” with RedEye restaurant reviewer Michael Nagrant tweeting “IT IS ABSURD TO BRING YOUR BABY TO ALINEA” and an article about banning children from fine-dining restaurants on the fancy eatin’ site “Eater.” Alinea is now considering not allowing children under the age of 7 into the restaurant.

Although I kind of sympathize with the baby–at those prices I’d probably be sobbing too*–I do think it was not only Achatz’s right but his responsibility to ask the couple with the baby to leave. Apparently they’d had a babysitter cancel on them at the last minute and hadn’t intended to take the baby with them, which is tough, especially because Alinea doesn’t allow people to change their reservations (although the tickets can be sold). For the record, Achatz did not ask them to leave, but I think he should have.

The other people there, who also paid an absurd amount of money for their dinners and were probably also on the wait-list months in advance, had a right to enjoy their meals without having to listen to a baby cry the whole evening. That’s not fair to them. In fact, I don’t think it would have been fair if they had paid a normal amount for their meals. If your child cannot behave properly in adult areas, then you should not bring your child into adult areas.

We all try to have empathy for parents in tough situations. If a baby starts crying on a plane, I don’t get annoyed and I completely empathize with the parents who must feel like “Oh god, probably everyone on this plane wants to kill me and I can’t get my kid to stop crying.” I actually usually try to help out because, weirdly, I am extraordinarily good with kids and usually have something in my purse they can play with. Obviously not the Camels. I don’t think parents should have to cut themselves off from all adult activities simply because they have children, but they need to learn to have empathy for the rest of us, too.

That being said, it is dumb to not allow people to change their reservations. “Tickets” to Alinea cost like $200 and are non-refundable. When you have a policy like that, you are sort of asking for this kind of thing to happen. I’m sure if the restaurant had allowed the couple to change their reservation, they would have.

So what do you think? Should fancy restaurants, or bars, or any place for that matter, be allowed to ban children and babies for the comfort of their other customers, or should the needs of parents be considered a top priority?

*I should state for the record that I am a notoriously cheap person. I really am, and that is going to make me incredibly biased when it comes to things like this. The very notion of spending $200 on a meal gives me the vapors and makes me feel slightly nauseated. I can’t even enjoy something if I think it’s too expensive, even if someone else is buying, because of the “principle of the thing.” I have issues.

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