Keep the kids away

Thank you, Red Robin. After RB’s Executive Editor, Kelly Killian, spoke with an executive from the Colorado-based burger chain, she realized that her observations during a recent visit were true—there’s a separate area of the dining room for people with kids.  Knowing this, I will now venture to Red Robin, a place I once avoided for fear of screaming, hungry children running around willy-nilly.

Now, I am not anti-kid. As an “older millennial,” I have plenty of friends with babies. But does that mean I want those children at a restaurant with me? No. I am not saying parents shouldn’t be allowed out of the house. But if they do bring their kids along, they should be conscious of their children’s behavior. As we all know, though, this is not always the case. So please instruct your hostess not to look at me like I’m Cruella DeVille when I request to be seated away from all children. Operators should know how to accommodate people who want to avoid kids, as well as people with them.

A recent Friday-night excursion to Eataly in Chicago demonstrated several reasons I take issue with children in restaurants (for most of which there are potential fixes on the operator’s part).

1. We started the evening at La Birreria—a beer-focused bar in a separate room within Eataly. The room, composed only of high-top tables and bar seating, looked slammed, yet there were plenty of open seats. How is that possible, you ask? Strollers took up half of the free space, jutting into walkways between tables and obscuring spots once occupied by now-shoved-to-the-side barstools. In no mood to literally jump over a buggy, I made the mistake of asking one parent to move the stroller slightly so I—a paying, of-age customer—could get to a table. Daggers shot out of her eyes, yet I was unwilling to budge. After all, it’s a bar. This is a place designed for me, not the baby.

My ideal solution: Stroller parking. As so many small brunch spots in Chicago (and elsewhere) know, asking guests to leave buggies near the entrance and providing space to park them safely avoids adding clutter and hindering the natural flow. Or, for a more formal approach, look to a coat-check system. After all, many restaurants’ coat checks offer to take large bags and backpacks. Is there room to store strollers, too?

2. After draining our drinks and being sufficiently fed up with glares coming from the mommy-and-me club, we proceeded to the wine bar. Serving as the focal point of the second floor, the bar is completely open, so the strollers weren’t as invasive. The issue here was the kids running wild, one group obviously playing a game of tag as they weaved in and out of the standing-room-only tables. I am sure the parents were exhausted from a week of work and simply wanted to relax and enjoy their wine, but their lack of attention to their child resulted in him ramming into my friend and spilling half of her wine. So now the child reeks of booze, my friend is down half of her wine (and $8) and the only one still seemingly enjoying their time is the absentee parent.

My ideal solution: Have a policy, and be prepared to enforce it. That might mean having a rehearsed spiel ready to explain to parents why kids can’t run wild. No, a parent might not like it when you ask them to make their kids stop playing hide-and-go seek. But aside from the distraction to other guests, unsupervised children running around could be a liability. Eataly, for example, is as much a market as it is a restaurant, so it’s full of glass bottles and other breakable products. If a kid slams into one of the displays, you could lose product and the kid could get hurt.

3. For dinner, we went to the La Pizza/La Pasta area, admittedly the most popular of the 23 eateries within Eataly. There were kids all around, so we thanked our lucky stars that the surrounding tables were full of adults. But when a nearby four-top was seated with parents and their two young children, we cringed. Within five minutes, the boy had knocked over his water and made a scene, while the little girl was screaming at the top of her lungs. Did the parents make any attempt to clean up or calm their children? No. They snapped their finger for a waiter to come clean and just rolled their eyes at the noise. However, when a member of my party unintentionally dropped a curse word within earshot of their precious kids, we got a death stare. Never mind that the screaming girl carried on with her tantrum for 15 minutes. The use of one word in our conversation disturbed them.

My ideal solution: I don’t have a good solution, outside of what Red Robin did. I know it’s not always realistic to separate groups with kids from adults-only parties, but I’ll be impressed with the operator who finds a way to please both sides of the debate.

For the rebuttal to the kids-in-restaurants debate read, "The value of family friendly," by Executive Editor Kelly Killian.


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