All Articles Food The family-friendly balancing act -- for restaurants

The family-friendly balancing act — for restaurants

4 min read


This post is by SmartBlog on Restaurants and Restaurant SmartBrief contributor Janet Forgrieve.

There’s a fairly memorable scene in one of the later seasons of “Sex and the City” in which happily child-free Samantha comes close to losing her cool when a precocious child tosses a helping of pasta pesto on her clean white business suit, after she’s told by the waiter to turn off her cell phone so she won’t disturb the other diners. It may be the same episode in which mom Miranda explains that she doesn’t bring her toddler to places that serve $12 pieces of cake while Charlotte coos about the cuteness of a chocolate-covered child running loose.

Scenes like Samantha’s dousing in green sauce may be extreme, but we’ve all seen some version of the out-of-control toddler who has been fed sugar and forced to sit for longer than his brief attention span will bear. In fact, it’s scenes like that one — and the expectation of them — that fuel the long-running debate on whether children belong in restaurants that cater to grown-up tastes. For one casual restaurant in North Carolina, the answer is yes — as long as the tots obey rules about volume. The Olde Salty in Carolina Beach now boasts a sign proclaiming that “Screaming children will not be tolerated.” Owner Brenda Armes said she posted the rule after growing tired of customers complaining about the problem, and she never asks guests to leave the restaurant when their youngsters grow too loud — she merely requests they take the screamers outside to calm down, before resuming their meal. Her strategy has apparently been a success — the signs have brought in more customers than they’ve turned off, she reports.

Still, restaurants walk a fine line when they try to please everyone, especially in an economic downturn when each guest counts. In a New York Times story earlier this year, writer Shivani Vora shared her early frustrations and eventual discovery of a growing number of fine-dining establishments in the city that cater to children. The tale spurred much debate on the topic, ranging from readers who planned to add the eateries cited to their lists of places not to visit to foodie parents pleased with the prospect of places likely to help them teach their children about the art of fine dining.

Some chefs see compromise as key to cultivating family fine dining without irritating grown-ups out for a nice quiet meal. In an interview with OpenTable, celebrity chef and father of two young sons Wolfgang Puck advises parents to prepare in advance for restaurant meals. When possible, dine at restaurants where they know you, and call ahead to have something ready right away, and communicate with servers to let them know that speedy service will go a long way toward keeping peace and quiet, he advises.

One L.A.-area mom whose palate extends past grilled cheese and chicken fingers launched a new blog this summer aimed at helping parents with similar tastes find family-friendly options. On Taster Tots L.A., mom blogger Jessica takes a reasonable approach, writing that she would never impose her children on the lucky date-night diners at Spago or similar high-end restaurants. Instead, she offers her take on area eateries aimed at adults but likely to also keep children interested long enough to sit still for a family meal.

Has the downturn spurred a more family-friendly atmosphere at your restaurant? How do you walk the fine line between being welcoming to all and catering to guests seeking a quiet, grown-up meal?

Aphrodite74 via iStock