How Parents, Nonparents, and Fancy Restaurants Can Avoid Social Breakdown When a Baby Is Crying

What Women Really Think
Jan. 15 2014 11:42 AM

How Parents, Nonparents, and Fancy Restaurants Can Avoid Social Breakdown When a Baby Is Crying

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"Wait here, kid. We'll be back after the dessert course."

Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Maybe Don’t Bring Your Baby to a 3-Star Restaurant,” Jezebel suggests, in response to a kerfuffle over a Chicago couple bringing their 8-month-old to the ultraexclusive restaurant Alinea because their babysitter canceled. The restaurant requires future patrons to buy $470 tickets to reserve a table for two in advance, and per Alinea’s website, tickets are nonrefundable, though they are transferrable.

Jessica Grose Jessica Grose

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.

These parents were obviously in a tough spot, and I can see both sides of the issue on this one: The parents didn’t want to lose a ton of money, and the patrons did not want a crying baby interrupting their expensive meal. So I’m not here to rehash the debate about whether parents should take their children out to certain spaces: We’ve heard endlessly about whether babies should be on planes or in bars or at concerts.

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No matter how many Internet commenters argue about this topic, Americans are going to continue to bring their children into places that other Americans wish were adult-only spaces. (Side note: Yes, I know that people in Europe bring their kids to the pub all the time. Let’s also accept this is a different cultural context, and in many ways, we will never be Europe.) Instead of continuing to argue, why don’t we agree on some behavioral protocols for establishments, parents and nonparents alike?

For upscale establishments:

If you really don’t want kids at your restaurant, then have a policy stating that children are not allowed. This seems like an OK thing to do if you’ve got Michelin stars and way less OK if you’re a neighborhood pizza joint, where yelling children come with the package. What not to do as a restaurant owner: Post a pissy, passive-aggressive tweet after patrons leave, as Alinea owner Grant Achatz did:

That’s just bad manners—publicly shaming the couple instead of fixing the situation as it’s happening. If you allow children at your fancy restaurant, but they are disturbing other customers, it should be acceptable for waiters or hosts to ask parents, politely, to take their children outside (or into the bathroom in cold Chicago weather) until they calm down.

For parents:

If your baby is crying or fussing loudly at a nice establishment, feel appropriately mortified and take him somewhere until he stops. It’s on you to bring iPads, soft toys, etc, to entertain your child so that he doesn’t disturb others. Yes, I know that children aren’t supposed to look at screens at all until they’re 2, but you’re the one taking your kid to a $200-plus per-person dinner. Rules must be bent. Do not get all offended if restaurant staff or other patrons ask you (nicely!) to quiet down. Understand that your kid is being annoying, and take appropriate steps to shut it down.

For Nonparents:

If a baby is ruining your time, you can politely ask parents to keep the noise down. But also understand that sometimes parents of young children might not be being jerks on purpose; they may be so broken down and used to the hubbub that it doesn’t occur to them that it’s completely annoying everyone else.

For example, we were at a resort for Christmas vacation with my husband’s extended family. We took our 1-year-old daughter to a casual, outdoor lunch spot next to a pool, and we gave her plastic stacking cups to play with so she wouldn’t fuss. We’re so inured to the annoying banging sound the cups make that we didn’t realize that the sound would be completely irritating to other patrons. The table next to us kindly asked us to give our daughter a different toy, and we did immediately, and apologized. We felt terrible about bothering them in the first place.

Of course there will be jerks on all sides: nonparents who are nasty to parents, parents who think their little angels should be allowed to do whatever they want, restaurant owners who will take your money and then trash you on social media. But for the rest of us, just a little communication and understanding can go a long way. 

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