Reasons Why Restaurants' Ban Kids Policies are Unfair

Why banning kids is discriminatory and unnecessary

Mom & toddler girl talking joyfully in restaurant
images by Tang Ming Tung / Getty Images

If you're a parent of a young child, you've no doubt watched the reports of restaurants that have banned babies and children with a mix of dismay and some indignant anger.

It's not hard to understand what may motivate a restaurant or another establishment to resort to such measures. I've been in plenty of situations in restaurants (not to mention airplanes, supermarkets, and bookstores, and just about anywhere kids can be found) where I have wished that either I or the family with the screaming and/or kicking child could somehow be magically transported out of that situation.

In an effort to prevent their patrons from having to suffer through meals with unruly kids, some restaurants have implemented a no-kid policy after a certain time of day (say, after 7 p.m. in the evenings), or have banned kids under a certain age. Other establishments have asked parents to step outside with crying children

But as with so many other situations, painting with too broad a brush ends up making things unfair. What about parents and kids who aren't causing any problems and sitting and eating quietly? Any "ban kids" policy means that any kid--even a quiet one who would never disturb fellow diners--will not be allowed to eat at a certain restaurant. Sure, restaurants are not public spaces, and they have the right to serve who they want. But what if they decided to, say, not serve people of a certain ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation? Why is it okay to ban people who are under a certain age?

Why Banning Kids is Discriminatory, Unfair, and Should be Criticized

  1. It assumes all kids will have a meltdown or run around uncontrollably. Kids, like adults, are individuals. Sure, some may not have good table manners or throw tantrums or get out of their seats and run around. But many other kids are perfectly able to sit quietly and draw or watch something on a smartphone or iPad with headphones on or just chat with their parents and enjoy their meal.
  1. It assumes all parents with young children won't be able to manage their kids. Many parents know that they need to discipline kids, and are very good at preventing or handling behavior problems. An all-kids ban assumes that we parents all sit by helplessly or shrug and do nothing while our kids run around a restaurant wreaking havoc or screaming and throwing food around.
  2. It discriminates against children and, to a certain extent, parents. Banning all kids means any well-behaved child is not allowed to eat there and puts an unfair burden on parents who are forced to find childcare instead of being allowed to eat out with their children.
  3. It assumes that banning kids is the fix that will make dining pleasant for everyone. If you've ever been trapped in a confined space with an adult who is loud and rude or drunk or is talking loudly on the phone about personal matters or yelling at someone, you know that banning kids will certainly not help when someone like this is seated near you in a restaurant. Grownups can be just as unpleasant as--and sometimes even more than--unruly kids.
  1. It doesn't allow parents a chance to show that their children are able to be pleasant mealtime companions and well-mannered patrons. Some kids may want to show off their best table manners as well as other etiquette, like thanking waiters and waitresses and other restaurant staff. They may want to practice ordering for themselves and display their good manners as they greet people and interact with them. Banning kids takes away the chance for well-mannered children to prove themselves.

What Parents Can Do

  • Don't assume the restaurant will have things to entertain your kids. Bring a "restaurant bag"--a small drawing pad, crayons or markers, puzzles and brain-teaser games, books, and headphones and iPad.
  • Go over good table manners with kids and practice them before taking them to any restaurant.
  • Ask restaurants that ban kids to consider asking parents to take kids out if they're being rude or disruptive and take things on a case-by-case basis instead of establishing a ban on all kids.

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