Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Happiest Restaurant on Earth

Disney World, the happiest place on earth, is now an even happier place for those who want to indulge in an Adult Friendly evening. Victoria and Albert’s, a five star restaurant in Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, officially adopted a policy of no children under the age of ten at the start of 2008. The decision on the part of Disney management is one to be applauded; no one should be subject to a misbehaving child during $125 prix fixe meal. Some argue that this is the newest addition to a growing number of “child-unfriendly” policies sweeping the nation but few are addressing the root cause of the issue; why are businesses compelled to ban children?

Victoria and Albert’s is the definition of an upscale dining experience. Upon arriving each woman receives a single red rose and diners are escorted to a very small and private dining room. Guests enjoy a 2 ½ hour multi-course gourmet meal served with white gloves in an atmosphere compete with harpist. For an extra $60 above the base price of $125 you can enjoy a wine pairing with each course; this is a culinary event and not just a dinner. Does this sound like the kind of place to bring a child under the age of 10? Management attempted to communicate the adult setting of this restaurant with the absence of children’s pricing, yet parents insisted on bringing their young children. Ultimately the high number of complaints directed towards ill-behaved children forced Disney to take action, ensuring their key clientele paying top dollar would have the perfect evening they were looking for. Interestingly enough, reports indicate the biggest complaints came from parents who were trying to get away from children for the evening.

Disney is not alone. There are a growing number of restaurants, shops and bars addressing the presence of children on their premises. Ultimately it boils down to one thing; there is a time and a place for children and too many parents have demonstrated their inability to draw the line as to when and where children are appropriate. Fancy restaurants, rowdy bars, adult theaters and antique shops are just a few examples of businesses that are not designed for children and are taking official action to keep them out. Even casual restaurants and cafes are starting to create policies so their diners without children, or with well-behaved children, are not forced to endure inconsiderate parents and their misbehaving brood.

There is parental backlash against establishments enforcing a brat-free environment. Parents with a sense of entitlement are going so far as to bring age-discrimination lawsuits when denied entry or asked to leave when their child is acting up. This anger and action against restaurants is terribly misplaced. Rather then focusing upon busines policies shouldn’t we instead focus on the mounting parental irresponsibility driving the need for these policies? Even parents who actually have darling, perfectly behaved children recognize there are other parents who refuse to discipline and control their offspring and children-free policies are making up for a lack of common sense.

A combination of political correctness and mommy-mania has us dancing around the issue of parents refusal to supervise their children causing chaos, running around restaurants, tripping patrons and waitstaff, disrupting conversations, ruining everyone’s day and becoming a danger to themselves and those around. What is a sad testament to the state of our society is how many parents do not notice or care about their children running amok. Few parents take criticism of their children very well and most are horrified when confronted with the suggestion their child is anything less then perfectly behaved, becoming indignant when confronted. The worst behaved children are often the offspring of parents who would accept a request to gouge their eyes out with a sugar spoon sooner than a request to shut their kids up; making it nearly impossible to communicate when junior is causing angst amongst diners.

Even worse are those who claim this disorderly conduct is a normal part of growing up and calming children down is an impossible task or one that will hurt their fragile self-esteem. These parental excuses are leading to generations of children who without the most basic understanding of politeness and respect are ill-equipped to function upon leaving the nest. Some parents argue that these restaurant bans will actually limit their ability to teach children how to behave while dining out which is nothing short of absurd. Like all good lessons that of table manners can begin at home. If parents allow their children to run around the house and act up during mealtimes this behavior will not miraculously disappear when entering a fine French restaurant. Children can even learn table manners at McDonald’s if parents demand them to behave with the same courtesy and respect that is expected in a higher class restaurant. The lessons of public etiquette and behavior should be approached much like our schooling; just as we don’t expect a five year old to thrive in high-school algebra we shouldn’t expect that same five year old to master the skills necessary to dine in a five star restaurant. Even restaurants that cater more to children should not be viewed as a playground; no one visiting Applebee's expects an intimate and quiet dinner but that is no excuse to let children hang from the rafters.

Parents also argue that they are entitled to enjoy a fine meal just as much as non-parents forgetting that part of the choice to have children includes sacrificing visits to restaurants that serve foie gras. Unless willing to hire a babysitter parents should stick to restaurants with high chairs, children’s menus, kids eat free specials and placemats with crayons. Children will still get a night out with their parents and will be far happier with chicken finger then goose liver. There are far more places that cater to children then those that don’t. Those who enjoy the pleasure of an intimate dining experience or even a quiet coffee shop should support businesses brave enough to stand up to “family-friendly” pressures to provide an adult-friendly atmosphere.


Drew said...

Would these children hanging from the rafters at Applebee's be dead or alive? Because that would make all the difference in the world.

Wade said...

as a parent of darling, perfectly behaved children :)... i agree with you. kids are kids and, by definition, aren't going to behave in a manner one expects of patrons of nicer restaurants. any parent who brings a misbehaving toddler (pretty much redundant, in my opinion) into a restaurant where entrees are more than $20 is being downright rude. we go out to eat with the kids *maybe* once a month, and most of that is due to the hassle factor-- the wait staff, those around us, and (mostly) our own.

that said. when you go to a perkins, for example, you give up the right to give nasty looks to anyone struggling to get their 2-year old to finish his fruit. we try our best to keep the kids as polite as possible, and mostly succeed, but sometimes little princesses are going to be a little louder than adults when expressing their distaste for peas. part of being in a collective society is dealing with situations where you aren't 100% satisfied. *especially* in a perkins. :)

Nursedude said...

I'm a parent-although my kids are older now(20 and 17), when they were little, particularly toddler and pre-school age, I never would have DREAMED of bringing my kids to a really posh, nice restaurant. #1, I would not be able to enjoy the meal, and #2, it's a safe bet that the diners eating at such a place deserve to be able to enjoy their meal without dealing with potentially misbehaving kids. That's why you have family restaurants.But even at a place like Perkins, or one of the family greek run places in Chicago, the minute the kids acted up, I would put our dinner in a doggy bag and get out.

Parents who refuse to discipline their kids are a very real problem out there. I've seen it at parks,restaurants, and even when I was coaching soccer.

Anyway, I think this posting was a particularly good one-and timely, since I am about to become a granparent in a few months. So good,'chelle, I think you should consider submitting this to "my turn"in Newsweek or the opinion page in the Strib or NY Times.

Explosive Bombchelle said...

Wade, I don't fault your darling children protesting peas. I'm 32 and I still whine when they ruin an otherwise fine plate of food.

Even as a non-parent I understand how difficult it is at times to get a child to use their inside voice, sit down and act appropriately. I make it a policy to tailor my scowls in relation to both the child-appropriateness of a restaurant as well as the effort being made by the parent to calm the bundle of joy down. Example, if in Perkins I will scowl if the child is running up and down the aisles while the tot's parents enjoy their coffee and Tremendous Twelve. However, I will not scowl if parent is trying to calm down a cranky toddler. On the flip side I will always scowl at a child under say 8 in a five-star restaurant regardless to their behavior.

Mommy said...

As the parent of three adult daughters, I have to say as children they behaved, most of the time, when we ate out. They knew it was a treat to eat out and wanted to enjoy it too. And we also put the fear of God in them. We also took them to places like Beefsteak Charlie's where kids ate free. Never did we take them to a "fancy" restaurant, Bars or weddings. I always felt there was a time and place for children. I still do.

Explosive Bombchelle said...

Ahhhh… the fond memories of dining out at Beefsteak Charlie’s with the family. You would get us excited all day about going out to a nice dinner and how we should eat a light lunch or we would ruin our dinner. By the time we made it to dinner we were so hungry that we were the quietest, best behaved children in the world. What better way of shutting kids up then keeping their faces stuffed at the salad bar after a day of fasting.. Today they would call it abuse… I like to call it getting our money’s worth out of the all you could eat peel and eat shrimp!

Amy said...

The next time you see my Mom and Dad, please ask them about "the look" my dad used to give us when any one of the 4 of us was acting up. It's burned into my brain and even now, at age 33, I'd snap to attention if I ever saw my dad peering down the pew at church, looking at me across the table, or even glaring at me from a distance giving me "the look."

My mom and dad always said we were never going to have a lot of money, but we would have a good time. We always had a great time and the best part was that my parents knew that they always needed to be parents first - that if we all ever were going to be friends, it'd come at a much later stage in our lives. I'm thankful that time has come where we all love to spend time together, but don't get me wrong - I *needed* them to be my parents growing up, and that's where I think a lot of parents go wrong today. (If we're going to get into the entitlement thing, we'll need to do so over a magnum of wine or champagne!)

NeeNee said...

I agree there is a time and place for children. I love my niece with all my heart but would never dream of bringing her to a five star restaurant in Manhattan where she "might" act up and get cranky.

However I now wish we still had Beefsteak Charlies for Wednesday night shrimp at the salad bar, she could behave for the hour it took us to indulge.

I also agree with Nursedude, Children seem to (I am quoting Arnold via Kindergarten Cop) "lack discipline".