Children In Restaurants – The Munier Question
This afternoon, my news source of choice, Twitter, reported that Nick Munier (apparently he has a restaurant called Pichet, but most of us know him as the one with the cool glasses on Masterchef) has banned children from his restaurant. Well, children under 2. And after 6, to be precise.
This is a rather unsavoury subject which does nevertheless raise its head every once in a while. In recent discussions about the issue, one Guardian writer suggested that perhaps soundproofed glassed-off areas are the answer, while John Oserskey of Time magazine ponders whether families should stick to family-friendly restaurants, leaving the expensive grown-up versions to adults.
Needless to say, the lovely varied world of Irish foodies had their comments about this latest installment in the debate, some in support, most not. It reminded me of something I did a little while ago which admittedly wasn’t my finest hour.
I walked out of a restaurant because the children in it were too noisy.
No, wait, breeeeeeathe…..let me explain.
We’d been up since 6am, locked in stressful meetings most of the day, finally finished at 9pm and needed to talk things through away from the office. So, mind-numbingly exhausted and running on empty, we swung into a country town Chinese restaurant, hoping for a quiet and quick bite to eat after a long, long (nope, two’s not going to do it), long day.
It wasn’t to be. The restaurant was completely empty except for a table of seven people, ranging in ages from 6 months to 40 years.
Through the cacophany of noise, it quickly transpired that it was the 7 year old’s birthday, evidenced by his hearty and regular rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ to himself at five minute intervals. The 6 month old – obviously not a fan of her brother’s singing – contributed her own rather piercing screech to this chorus, leading to the unhappiest of harmonies. The 5 year old seemingly took umbrage with the 7 year old’s firm grip on the adult’s attention, and proceeded to throw food in a somewhat successful attempt to usurp his position. Meanwhile a set of twins, aged about 10, engaged the waitress in constant requests for additional sauce / crackers / purple vegetables. Or perhaps they were just asking the chef directly. They were certainly loud enough to be heard in the kitchen.
The parents of this brood appeared to be completely oblivious to the din, which is a phenomenon that only appears to occur amongst those in the permanent company of children.
Also, as the eldest of four, I’m hardly new to the idea that children make noise. In fact, despite the high decibel levels and pungent aromas, I wholeheartedly love children. Adore them, even. Honestly, in the child-friendly stakes, I’m up there with Mary Poppins, albeit without the diabetes-inducing spoonful of sugar.
I’m the person on a plane who pities the poor bawling baby and her exasperated parents rather than sending them daggers and tut-tutting into my in-flight magazine. I’m also the person who calmly steps over the tantrum-throwing toddler in the supermarket, aware that anything short of my best poker face will only encourage the little tyke to continue. I get it. Kids aren’t easy to manage, and families should be able to enjoy a night out in a restaurant too.
BUT on a very basic level, I wanted a quiet environment in which to talk and unwind, and it wasn’t available, so I left. It was my problem, not theirs, so I removed myself from the situation, rather than asking them to change their behaviour. Nothing had been ordered, and no drinks poured, so I wasn’t inconveniencing the staff, and we made up an appropriate excuse so as not to make the family feel bad in the unlikely case of them noticing our departure.
So, while I’m not saying I agree with him for one second, before we all pounce on Munier’s child-prohibition stance, do let’s have a think about the the grey amongst the black and white – would you have stayed in the restaurant scene described above? What would you have done differently? What do you suggest restaurants should do to avoid losing some custom while preserving that of families?