NRN editor and restaurant operations expert Ron Ruggless breaks down what you should be watching in the industry this week. Connect with him on the latest operations trends and news at @RonRuggless and email@example.com.
Balancing the broadly differing wants and needs of restaurant guests takes a lot of baby coddling. Or maybe not.
This past week, a Northern California restaurant highlighted the Hobson’s choice restaurant operators often face when it comes to policies on children within their four walls.
Shake’s Old Fisherman’s Grotto on the wharf in Monterey, Calif., dove headlong into the controversy, drawing jeers from some parents and cheers from other patrons with signs that prohibit strollers, high chairs, booster seats, loud kids and crying babies. The signs — the first two of which went up two years ago and a third that was added this year — also warn that if children or babies are loud, they and their caretakers will be asked to leave.
The initial news reports spread faster than spilled milk across the media landscape and seeped deeply into social media.
"I think it's ridiculous," tourist Teresa Colombani told KSBW-TV. "I think kids need to know how to behave in restaurants, and if you don't take them to them, they don't know how to behave, and they shouldn't be kept hidden away, so I think it's ridiculous. Kids should be allowed in restaurants."
Chris Shake, the restaurant's owner, said that if patrons didn’t like the rules, they could dine elsewhere. And he’s not backing down.
“If a place has the rules, that's what the rules are,” Shake said. "You go in and abide by the rules or you find a place more suitable for you."
The issue was like chum in the water on Old Fisherman’s Grotto’s Facebook page, with supporters slightly outweighing critics in a fevered to and fro.
Last month, Nancy Kruse, president of the Kruse Company, and Bret Thorn, senior food editor for Nation’s Restaurant News, debated the issue of kids in restaurants, citing incidents like less-than-quiet child at Grant Achatz’ refined Alinea in Chicago.
During the service, Achatz tweeted:
Tbl brings 8mo.Old. It cries. Diners mad. Tell ppl no kids? Subject diners 2crying? Ppl take infants 2 plays? Concerts? Hate saying no,but..— Grant Achatz (@Gachatz) January 12, 2014
The chef later told ABC News: "I could hear it crying in the kitchen. We want people to come and enjoy an experience at Alinea for what it is, but we also have to be cognizant of the other 80 people that have come in to experience Alinea that night."
These stories about efforts to quash disruptive behavior from children tend to pop up every summer as parents and the fruits of their loins spread out across tourist destinations. But limits on children in restaurants have had mixed success. They have ranged from full-on bans that yielded booming business at one Del Ray, Va., sushi restaurant to less severe actions, such as limited hours for children at La Fisheria in Houston.
Some of Kruse and Thorn’s operational suggestions are to offer discounts for well-behaved parties or even to provide alternative child-care options.
And even parents see the restaurateurs’ point. Michelle Maltais, a mother “of two mostly well-behaved toddlers,” wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “What's wrong with a restaurant setting a behavior code along with a dress code? And they aren't saying no to all kids — even if they are saying no to child-specific accommodations such as strollers, high chairs and booster seats. They are saying no to unruly children.”
Maltais noted that she fully supported the restaurant alerting potential patrons upfront “rather than judgmentally sneering when a child shifts from mellow to exuberant to wildly overtired without warning.”
But she added that adolescents and grown-ups could be equally disruptive.
“Let's all support a policy of reining in the adolescent adult in public venues,” she said. “I'd love to see the restaurant also exclaim ‘Off with their bread!’ or ‘No chowder for you!’ in response to grown-ups fixated on their phones at the table, over-talking into them in the restaurant instead of stepping out, and to the Baby Boomer abusing the wait staff or losing it because the restaurant has run out of his favorite soup.”