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Kid Discrimination at a Baltimore Restaurant?

20 Written by: | Monday, Jul 09, 2012 1:13pm

We’ve read nationally that hot restaurants are trending away from customer coddling. One Baltimore restaurant seems to echo this rhythm, but is it actually symptomatic of a larger happening? Local diners, please weigh in below. – The Eds.

The world of a work-at-home mom almost always has one of two things going: either a juggling act or a balancing act, but typically it’s a circus. I don’t think the majority of people realize the sacrifices moms makes in order to maintain a daily presence with their children. That’s a topic for another column. My own juggling act brought me to a cozy, upscale urban bistro at lunchtime, with my tween, my toddler, and meeting notes.

At 11:40 am one recent summer morning, I realized my sitter was 10 minutes late, and I now had 20 minutes to get to a lunch meeting which was at a location 30 minutes away.  A glance at my cell phone and I spied a text…she’d cancelled.  Within five minutes, I had packed a baby bag, and threw in both a Fisher Price “laptop” for my daughter and my son’s iPad for good measure.  I managed to arrive to my meeting only 15 minutes late.  Whew.

I was meeting a sub-contractor, who works as both my chief fundraiser and administrative assistant, for events that I plan in the course of my media consultancy business.  A fellow foodie, she picked the bistro, a place she’d enjoyed and wanted me to try, and the meeting was going to be a laid-back but important one:  a post-mortem for a very successful event that was held a few days prior.  There were lots of loose ends to tie up and a budget to reconcile.  When I arrived at the Baltimore bistro, situated in the historic Hampden area of town, I was immediately enticed by the exotic aroma that greeted me.  I realized I was starving!  Despite being lunchtime, the place was deserted…only one customer sat with her back to us in a booth in the back.  It was my lunch companion.   I breezed in, out of breath, moving fast with a baby on my hip, and my super tall, 11-year-old looming behind me.

“You can see why I am late!” I said by way of greeting when I reached her table.  She smiled understandingly.  “I’m sorry… my sitter flaked out,” I said.

“No worries,” she replied.  And so I sat down in the booth across from her as a waitress approached.

“Hi!  Can I get you something to drink?” she asked.

“Ummm… let me organize myself first,” I told her.  “But in the meantime, can I have a highchair?”

“We don’t have highchairs,” she replied.

“Oh, well then a booster will be fine.”

“We don’t have those either,” she said with a shrug.

“You’re kidding me,” I said flatly, as I shifted my 22-pound daughter to the inside of the booth, and she immediately stood and reached for the place setting in front of her, and banged the fork on the table.

Now… a little about Jessica.  I will be the first to admit she’s busy.  She is quite possibly the busiest, fastest, loudest fifteen-month-old alive.  But she’s also friendly, happy, and generally well-behaved.  My 11-year-old, Jason, if I do say so myself, is a model citizen.  Polite, respectful, quiet.  He was of course, as is required by tween laws of mankind, bored and annoyed at having to spend lunchtime in a bistro with his mother and sister while his mother worked.    So since the restaurant was empty, I told him he could move to the table across from us, so that he could enjoy his lunch while he played on his iPad, undisturbed.

I ordered lunch for Jason, and he was content to eat alone and browse the internet.  I think it didn’t hit me at first, but upon hindsight, the way the woman (who turned out to be the restaurant owner) approached Jason was out of line.  She walked past his table, where he was clearly a patron at this point, as he had a Shirley Temple and a bowl of soup in front of him.  He was also clearly a child.  She said to him, “Are you waiting for someone?” in a very nasty tone.  Now I can see a waitstaff person asking a solo diner this question before his food arrives… but while he’s eating, chances are he’s alone.  Or in this case, just spread out.  I am sure his soup and sandwich and Shirley temple tab was enough to warrant the space he occupied.  However, my polite young son just said, “I’m with my mom,” and pointed to us.  I smiled pleasantly at the woman (again, her attitude toward my son did not stand out until her later actions made her position more clear).

“He wants his own space,” I said to her.  She pursed her lips disapprovingly and retreated.

My assistant and I got down to business while eating.  I had to swat Jessica away from my papers and direct her back to her own laptop a few times, and she sang out loud, but we largely let her alone and she let us work.  Finally, about 35 minutes in, she wanted to go to her brother’s table.  I let her down, and she ran to the table directly across from us in the narrow rowhouse restaurant.  She climbed into the seat next to Jason, spoke a few sentences of gibberish to him, climbed back down, and ran back to me.

By this time, two other groups of patrons had arrived.  That’s right, in the middle of the “lunch rush” this restaurant had a total of three tables booked.  Four if you count my son’s.  Moments after Jessica ran back over to me, and I picked her up and put her on my lap, the same woman who had approached Jason, arrived at our table and said, “The baby is disturbing my other patrons.”

“I’m sorry,” I replied.  My natural response…to apologize.   I also was looking around the room, trying to discern who she could be talking about.  No one was close enough.  The other two groups were seated at the front of the restaurant.  We were alone in the rear.

“It’s just… those people are having a business meeting,” she stated, pointing to the table at the very front of the restaurant.

“So are we,” my assistant replied, making a grand gesture to the notebooks, laptops and pens we had out.

Again, the woman retreated.  I was embarrassed.  But my assistant was furious.  “Do you mind?  I need to say something else to her.”

“No I don’t mind,” I said, glad that someone else was going to speak up for me, because I was nonplussed.  My assistant (now my hero) called the woman back over to the table, introduced herself and the woman in turn identified herself as the owner.  And then my assistant gave her a piece of her mind. She said we were patrons too and we were offended at her apparent distaste for our presence, despite our obviously hefty tab.  She said the restaurant was practically empty and that Jessica and Jason had been quite well-behaved, all things considered.  She said that she (my assistant) was sorry she had bragged about the friendly, welcoming atmosphere that had accompanied her meal the last time she dined there, and caused her to invite me to attend.  The owner calmly heard her out; however, she remained unapologetic.  She stated that it was NOT a child-friendly restaurant and had no intention of being one, even at lunchtime.  She said that was the reason she did not have highchairs, and she would not mind if my assistant wrote into OpenTable.com and posted a restaurant review which identified her establishment as not child friendly.  While I had never actually heard anyone be so brazen in their discrimination of children, I actually appreciated her candor: I can certainly feel comfortable spreading the word to save any other mothers or families a trip to a place so completely and openly unwelcoming.

But in the middle of the day, with a restaurant with so few patrons, and our group’s dining check coming to a hefty $100 for lunch, I’d have to say I am not so sure it was a smart business move.  Because I know a lot of women, and almost all of us have children.  My stay- and work-at-home mom crew love to lunch.  I won’t visit that restaurant again.  For that matter, while the food was pretty good, I also won’t be returning for dinner, with or without my children.  And I eat out.  A lot!

 

Leave a Reply

  • Kathy

    Don’t ever move to Ireland. Many restaurants won’t even let you in the door with children. I saw it more than once vacationing there a couple years ago; while we dined in nice places none of them were ultra-fancy. Thought it curious for such a Catholic country.

  • Sarah

    I love it, honestly, as part of the non-mom late 20’s crowd. Sometimes it would be heavenly to enjoy a meal/night out without any children! I know it sounds terrible, but I have chosen not to have children, so I do find it annoying when children are being loud or running around when I am trying to enjoy dinner. I am most definitely not saying your children(or any children I’ve not yet met) are little terrors around dinner time, but with so many family friendly places, I am thrilled by the idea of a kid-unwelcome sort of joint!

  • Desiree

    While I appreciate the professionalism and tact…I wish the article had come right out with the restaurant’s name. The owner obviously wears her decision as if on the catwalk. Being one of those work-from-home moms, I’d like to exercise my right NOT to buy what she’s selling, even if it is what’s trending today. I understand the beauty of a child free environment, but I have three problems with her behavior… 1) Do not address the child first. I’m certain she was able to ascertain that the young diner was with the two ladies at the next table. It is not as if the dining room was crowded. 2) Delivery is everything. Surely there was a less confrontational way to communicate her preference in clientele…perhaps the absence of boosters, highchairs, and smiles. 3) Only 3 tables at the lunch rush? She should have been happy to have patrons at all. Bad business!

    • Susan Dunn

      We thought long and hard about whether to name the restaurant. Robyn did name it in her original draft and it was my decision to with hold it. If I can get a response from the restaurant, we will follow-up with a post about the restaurant and its policy.

  • Robyn

    Hello all… I am the author. Thanks for your comments so far. And believe me, I too enjoy having dinner out without MY or anyone’s kids at certain times and especially in certain places. But at lunchtime, and in a casual bistro that wasn’t crowded, no less, I was shocked! Thanks for reading.

  • Elizabeth

    Seems to me Robyn should have taken the hint (no special seating for children) and left. Her smartypants “Are you kidding me?” statement makes her sound like she belongs at a fast food restaurant. Are booster seats now de rigueur at “upscale urban bistros”? A smarter move would have been to find a pizza place or reschedule. And frankly, I find her assistant’s actions questionable. Sounds like she was trying to impress her boss with her bold behavior and obviously succeeded.

  • lilyruthsmama

    I support the business owner’s right to be a non-child-friendly establishment. If she doesn’t want the business, that’s her choice to make. I even remember and understand the desire of patrons to dine in a child-free zone. What I take issue with is the attitude in our society that children are an intrusion and an inconvenience in public places. We expect them to grow up and become well behaved, well integrated members of this society. They are expected to learn these behaviors not by doing, but by being kept out of the way or restricted to ‘family’ establishments where they are indulged and allowed to run in packs. The message is mixed at best. I agree that loud, unruly children are no fun when dining out, but from where I sit, they are the exception and not the rule. Perhaps we would be better served by judging them kid by kid and not as a whole, and by putting the responsibility for their behavior squarely on the shoulders of the caregivers instead of attempting to dictate by exclusion.

  • Janet Dunn

    I suspect that even the woman who wrote this realizes that she was expecting too much. Children are so much the center of parent’s lives in the current social climate. I watch children in super markets allowed to run wild, handling, licking things for sale and then returning them to shelves. Many parents today have no understanding of discipline and have the idea that everyone else should adore their kids as much as they do. It is possible that the children described in this piece were a bother for other patrons.

  • jake

    It’s about time. I’m glad someone gets it. Please give the name so I can eat there everyday. I’m tired of having a relaxing meal disturbed by someone else’s ill-behaved brats. I’ll bet if someone advertised their place as kids prohibited, it would be really busy. Who said kids should be allowed everywhere?

  • SCBP

    I love the concept of restaurants that try to remain child free. Plenty of resorts do it, why shouldn’t restaurants? Please, share the name of the establishment!

  • Isabella Binny

    Please keep in mind, it takes a village, not a restaurant. In America, restaurants are for adults, because American children are unable to control themselves. Their self-centered behavior is encouraged by their parents who are afraid of them and unable to say no. Not that I love the French, but Pamela Druckerman’s book about the differences in parenting between our two countries is revelatory.

    http://www.npr.org/2012/02/12/146769135/move-over-tiger-mother-french-parents-may-be-better-too

    I have had children grab my hair from their booth, rub their food on my clothing and scream incessantly in restaurants. American children are unpredictable in almost any setting! Relying on the parents to make good decisions about their children’s behavior in a restaurant is a crap shoot. Restaurants cannot rely on parents to make good judgments about what is appropriate behavior. (Why, I wonder, was it necessary to meet with an “assistant” in a restaurant? Couldn’t the assistant come to you? What is that about?) Children used to be able to go to a local restaurant with their family, but that day is gone with the parenting practices of the child-centric, hyper-individualism of the 21st Century. (He’s having a Shirley Temple?! See that’s what I mean. He has his own table? That’s just crazy and sets a tone for other visits to the restaurants. What’s the matter with a restaurant that won’t give your son his own table? Why can’t he have his own table? See what I mean? A restaurant is not a day-care center.) The lack of good childrearing practices, and the blindness about how children effect an adult environment, is just a symptom of a terrible anxiety that is overtaking American families. Please, don’t work it out in the restaurants.

  • Mr. Potter

    I have a lot of kids, so maybe I’m not objective, but the commenters who are sympathizing with the restaurant owner sound like misanthropes. We need to find the joy in being on this planet together.

  • Debra Rubino

    I can certainly understand how frustrating this situation must have been for all. But I do think that the reason the restaurant owner may have reacted this way is because so few parents take responsibility for their children’s behavior when they go out. I have witnessed this so many times at all different kinds of places. Parents often seem to think that their children are quite precious and adorable no matter what they do–and includes screaming (and I mean screaming!), throwing food, crawling on the ground, interrupting conversation. I’ve seen all of it while parents just continue their conversations with their adult friends and/or colleagues. Because this behavior is not the exception but by far the rule, I can really understand the reticence that some restaurant owners must feel.

  • Andrea Clayville

    The exact same thing happend to me in a Canton restaurant. Well, I was with my husband and my child, 3 at the time. Dinner hour at a new place. No one in the up stairs dinning room execpt us. Then, they seated another family across from us. You know that babies love to communicate, so they did. I was told by one of the owners that my child was disturbing the other patrons. The other patrons as far as I knew was a family just like mine!! At that point I was finished eating and promptly left. When I got down stairs, there was a bartender, a couple sitting at a bar table and the rest of the wait staff waiting for a table of their own. Who exactly did we bother?
    I eat out a lot. A lot. I am also a busy hairdresser, at the time in Canton, I made sure to tell people about my experience, especially to clients with children.
    One would think in a time like this when people don’t spend as much as they used to, an establishment would welcome money. We were not a problem and we were spending money.
    3 years later, I still have never been to that place again. As you can see, it hits a spot.
    If these places don’t want children, shouldn’t there be a sign or they should just tell you when you enter. Why go to all of the trouble to torture us and then gladly take our money?

  • Andrea Clayville

    Goodness, I wrote my comment then I read the other comments. Wow, not all children are evil demons and not all parents let their evil children loose on unsuspecting diners. I hope that the people that do not have children at this point have a breeze raising their childern when it is thier turn. Geesh.

  • John Rose

    I feel very strongly that the “no children allowed or wanted” on the part of the restaurant owner and in the comments below are symptomatic of the spiritual impoverishment of our culture and our city. We could also begin a discussion of WHOSE children we do not want around. Baltimore remains a segregated, small town that picks and choses on the basis social and economic status all too easily. This story is about nothing other than privelege.

    • Carly

      One of the ladies is a media consultant and the other is a fundraiser. I doubt their presence was not wanted b/c of their economic status! And one had been there before! This was about the kids. Don’t try to change the subject.

  • Isabella Binney

    (@john rose That you would turn this into a racial or privilege issue is astonishing.) I just want to say one more thing. If restaurants prospered by having children in them, everyone of them would be catering to families with children. However, as restaurant owners have discovered, the behavior of children is poor and it disturbs adults for whom dining is a pleasant event. If having children in restaurants enhanced the dining experience, signs would be posted welcoming them. But, that is not what happens. Children, in America, are no longer able to behave when a in civilized environment. I agree there are wonderful exceptions, but they are the far and few between. Hence, the poorly behaved ruin it for all families. Don’t blame the restaurant.

  • John Rose

    I’m glad to see that I generated a little “Fishbowl” dialogue on this topic, and I apologize for not making my points clearly. First, establishments which are unfriendly to adults who, for whatever reason, bring their children along are by definition descriminating against parents in the company of children. That word means that they want to select whom their clients will be. Parents and guardians in the company of their children are not yet a protected group under Title IX, so legally it is not yet descrimination; it is merely descriminating. Fair enough for now, but I don’t see a difference between rejecting people for their color, race, geographical origin, religious creed, sexual preference and deciding to be a parent who takes his or her child out with them into public. “OH! We don’t want your kind here. You have children with you. Go be with your own kind.” I vote we call it “descrimination.”

    Secondly, I am earnest in demonstrating that this entire problem is the concern of economically and socially privileged class. If you are a) able to eat in restaurants while you conduct your business, b) have access to paid child care, even when it fails you, so you are free to conduct your business, c) of sufficient means to eat in “selective” restaurants, or d) have the time to look at Baltimore Fishbowl on your computer and leave comments on this topic, you are members of an economically and socially privileged class. I am privileged, and you are too. And Carly I am trying to change the subject to what I think this subject is about.

    Finally, it is the attitude towards children that bothers me in the story and throughout the comments. It harkens back to the “children should be seen and not heard mentality” of two generations ago. If we treat our children as being mindless and exclude them from adult social interactions, we will have mindless children who are incapable of social interactions. How about engaging them in the damn restaurant and be part of community that includes children? I have little toleration for people who have little toleration for children. Am I descriminating?

  • jam

    YOU CAN GO practically anywhere in the city with your brats, and the SECOND you can’t go to ONE OR TWO measly restaurants, you’re infuriated. Suck it up and SHUT UP, because we no-kid adults are sick of having to share upscale or even at the very least OBVIOUS adult-styled dining environments with your kids when you could have just taken them to fridays or outback. QUIT COMPLAINING ABOUT EVERY LITTLE THING, when you’re allowed to take them almost everywhere, yet we get nada!



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