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First it Was No Smoking, Then No Cell Phones and Now “Ban the Kids”

Through most of the '70s and part of the '80s the industry was dealing with the problem of smoking in restaurants and bars. It started out 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, went to the additional expense of up-grading your ventilation systems, and were held responsible for enforcing it. History will show that you did and continue to do so.

Then came the cell phone, and it presented a whole new series of potential confrontations with your guests. For example, loud conversations in a dining room, wait staff delivering food to guests while they were speaking on the phone and requesting it be taken back to the kitchen, guests calling guests in another area of the dining room just for the sake of using the phone and the loud ringing of the phone from incoming calls. All of these became distractions and were grounds for customer complaints. Once again, management had to do something about it and did, in many cases prohibiting the use of cell phones in dining rooms, and, if possible, creating areas away from the dining room for guests to make out-going calls if necessary.

While texting and twittering have for a large part replaced the cell phone, they have not proven to be quite the distraction as the cell phone.

Are you ready? This past summer a restaurant in Pennsylvania created a furor when it banned children under six from their operation. This action has become known as “Ban the Brats.” The Chicago Tribune thought it was newsworthy enough to give some in-depth coverage. As a result, they found that there is a large community of people who would not only like to see kids banned from restaurants, but from many other places as well, such as airplanes, movie theaters and grocery stores.

The Yahoo! Shine website asked it readers, “Are kid-free restaurants a great idea or flat-out wrong?” The response was very revealing. Not only did many agree, but they listed other places where children shouldn’t be allowed: Movie theaters, grocery stores and airplanes. More than 20,000 participated over a four-day period.

The largest group 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. Unfortunately, lost in the shuffle were the normal parents of normal children. They are asking for a little understanding. Do they have to limit their dining options to Chuck E. Cheese? Do you really expect them to hire a baby sitter while they buy groceries? Can’t some slack be cut on the airplane thing?

Quoting from the Tribune, “The no-kids-allowed movement, a/k/a the Brat Ban, is gaining momentum, driven by quiet-seeking adults who want to prohibit children from concerts to public transportation to Face book. Demographics tell the story: The U.S. has more empty-nesters and more childless couples than ever before. One in five women chooses not to have children.”

My sole purpose in bringing this issue to your attention is simply this: Once again the food service industry may very well find itself dealing with a social issue which is not of its choosing—having to select the age at which guests will be permitted in their operation. Sounds far fetched? There is a growing list of options for the child-averse: Adult swim; theaters with separate kids and no-kids screening of the same movie; quiet cars on trains; and, I repeat, kid-free restaurants.

I want to make it perfectly clear I’m not advocating that you consider banning children from your establishment; what I am saying is that there is a segment of the market that would like see this happen.

I would also tell you that I can’t conceive of a time when legislation would mandate such an action. After all, there is no legislation mandating the use of cell phones, and yet their use in restaurants proved to be such a distraction that management had to institute rules for their use.

How would you deal with “Banning-the-Kids?”

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