Have You Thought of Banning Kids? …Think Again

About two years ago I informed my readers that a restaurant in Pennsylvania had banned children less than six years of age. My first reaction was, “Here we go again.” Let me refresh your memory. by Fred Sampson

Through most of the 1970s and part of the ’80s, the industry was dealing with the problem of smoking in restaurants and bars. It started as a voluntary response, and then the advocates of these proposals demanded a legislative remedy and were successful. You, the operator, had no choice. Even though most establishments provided “no smoking” sections and went to the additional expense of upgrading ventilation systems, you were held responsible for enforcing the law. History will show you did and continue to do so.

Then along came the cell phone. It presented a whole new series of potential confrontations with your guests. For example, loud conversations in the dining room, waitstaff delivering food to guests while they were speaking on the phone and requesting the food be taken back to the kitchen until later, guests calling guests in another part of the dining room—just for the sake of using the phone—and the loud ringing from incoming calls: all of these became distractions and were grounds for customer complaints. Again, management had to and did do something about it. In many cases it prohibited their use in the dining room and, if possible, created areas away from the dining room where patrons could make outgoing calls if necessary.

Texting and tweeting have for a large part replaced cell phone calls, and have proven to be less of a distraction than the cell phone.

When “banning the kids” was first announced by said Pennsylvania restaurant, the Chicago Tribune thought it was newsworthy enough to give it some in-depth coverage. As a result, they not only found a large community of people who would not only like to see kids banned from restaurants, but many other places such as airlines, movie theaters, and grocery stores.

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There was more support for this than you might think. About 20,000 participated in a Yahoo survey that asked: “Are kid-free restaurants a great idea or flat-out wrong?” Over the survey’s four-day period, the largest groups were people who are fed up with small people who whine, cry, run around, go in their pants in public, and the people whose own children never, ever do any of that.

Since this prohibition started almost three years ago, has there been an increase in restaurants that ban children at a certain age? The answer is yes, but it has not reached major proportions and, in fact, Restaurant.com did a survey titled “No-kids policies may be shortsighted,” which indicated that six out of ten parents dine out with their children once a week or more. Few restaurants can afford to ignore a market segment this big, which is why it’s worth paying attention to parental preferences uncovered by this study.
While some diners are still joining the “ban the kids” group, the survey shows conclusively that having a no-kids policy comes with risk: alienating a key customer demographic. The Restaurant.com survey of 998 adults found that the 59 percent of parents who take their kids out to eat once a week or more say they do so for the following reasons:

Provides quality time with the family, 70 percent. Not having to cook, 66 percent. Everyone can order what they want. Nothing to clean up.

  • Parents also see a visit to a restaurant as providing more than a meal. They cite three educational benefits that can accrue from dining out: 1) 66 percent think dining out is a good opportunity for kids to try new foods; 2) 57 percent say it’s a good time to work on their kids’ table manners; and 3) 54 percent use the occasion to educate their children about different cuisines.
  • More than half of the parents surveyed did admit that unruly children could have a negative impact on a restaurant experience.
  • Fifty-two percent reported being annoyed by the behavior of other children in a restaurant. As for their own, 67 percent said they feel comfortable when they take their children to upscale restaurants.
  • And finally, if you want to appeal to more families, focus on affordability, a decision-making key. Ninety-six percent of the survey respondents said they used a coupon or a deal when dining out with their children, and 37 percent reported they do so more frequently than not.

Remember that almost 60 percent of parents take their kids out to eat once a week or more. Do you really want to “ban the kids”?