An Open Letter from DEFCON Dining
To be clear, the incident was certainly disruptive, though fleetingly so, and people acted as if they'd been fleetingly disrupted. That's not always how it goes. I've been witness to parents letting their kids run pell-mell around the restaurant, dodging waiters and jostling diners. That's being an ass****. I've had other diners glare at me and mutter under their breath when one of my kids had a moment of less-than-decorous behavior. That's also being an ass****.
Dining out with kids always has the potential to head south. Children are, in a way, "civilized people" in training. They're learning the ropes, testing the waters, and testing the limits for acceptable social behavior. It's a natural process, and one that always has its share of bumps in the road. It's also a process that each of us has faced at some point, even if only on the tantrum-pitching end. As a parent who's been on the receiving end plenty of times, I know that bad behavior is an occasional fact of life.
Children tend to be loud and lacking in social graces; that's why we teach them how to mind their manners. To me, that education is not merely for the benefit of myself and my children, but for the benefit of the broader community in which we live. I consider it a part of the social contract implicit in participating in public life that I keep my family's behavior from negatively impacting the experiences of those around us. That doesn't mean forcing them to sit straight-backed and silent, but it does mean keeping them in their seats and maintaining a volume and demeanor appropriate to the environment. If they get out of hand, I do what I can to mitigate the impact the impact. In short, I try not to be an ass****. Parents, this goes a long way.
When I find myself in the rare situation of dining without my kids, and am surrounded by other people's, I try to be understanding of the issues parents face. Nobody wants someone else's kid throwing rolls in his soup, but we should be able to tolerate the slightly more boisterous nature of children without wrinkling our noses in ignorant contempt. If a kid in the table next to mine bumps my chair while returning from the bathroom, I assure the embarrassed parent that it's no big deal. I've been there, and besides, that's just basic human consideration. Non-parents, this goes a long way.
So, back to the point at hand. I think there's something inherently unsavory about an otherwise normal restaurant banning children. After all, it's not the age but the behavior that is problematic; a well behaved 4-year-old makes a better dining companion than a loud and obnoxious twenty-something (or forty- or eighty-something). That a restaurant feels that the best way to serve its clientele is to bar entry to an entire group of people seems somewhat contrary to the ideals of inclusion and non-discrimination that guide so much of American culture and law.
That said, kids aren't a protected group in public accommodation law; neither are the elderly, as far as I can tell. I wonder what the reaction would be if a restaurant decided that it was going to ban patrons over the age of 65 after 7 p.m.?
It's not that I really have a problem with the ban, though. It's easy enough for me to patronize other restaurants when I have my kids in tow, and I'm always careful to consider the appropriateness of a given restaurant for my kids on a given day. If a couple of restaurants fall off of our rotation because my kids aren't welcome after 7, the impact is relatively small.
In the end, though, I think the broader implications are more troubling. To me, it points to the fact that people aren't following that simple rule I mentioned above. Let's not ban children from our restaurants. Let's ban ass****s.