A recent feature story about Georgia’s most romantic restaurant, Viande Rouge steakhouse, having a no-kids policy got me thinking of an odd encounter a few years ago.
We were traveling in Nova Scotia and came across a farmhouse touted as a fancy restaurant. When we — my wife and four children aged 4 to 12 — walked into the cramped dining room, we were met with 40 sets of eyes evoking a collective “Oh, damn!” look.
A while later, a stern-looking older woman who had been staring at us got up to leave. She stopped by my wife, growled something into her ear and then marched out.
“What was that all about?” I asked, assuming the worst.
It turns out she said, “Your children have acted admirably. That’s a compliment to them and a credit to you.”
Wow, we were complimented because our kids didn’t act like they were feral. They sat up straight, used their forks and didn’t dart around like it was recess. It demonstrates society’s low expectations of children — or, more correctly, their parents.
It’s a pet peeve shared by many: Sitting near “spirited” children in a restaurant who are (pick one) running/jumping/shouting/crying/throwing food or banging toys while their (pick one) self-absorbed/clueless/adoring parents (pick one) ignore them/keep conversing/continue drinking/fail to remove them or futilely bargain with them. “C’mon, buddy, please be good.”
Thomas Taylor, co-owner of Viande Rouge, which is Johns Creek, is diplomatic when discussing the restaurant’s 14-and-over policy. “We all love kids,” he said. “But sometimes we want to be with the big kids.”
The restaurant is intimate, which helped OpenTable website list it among the 100 most romantic restaurants in America. But it has only 17 tables. “If there’s an unhappy child, then everybody knows it,” Taylor said.
When it opened, the owners considered allowing “well-behaved” kids. “But well-behaved means something different to each parent,” he said.
Ultimately, they didn’t want to delve into the morass of refereeing customers’ parenting styles.
Even hinting to some parents that their darlings aren’t the center of the universe is playing with dynamite.
A few years back, Donnie Parmer, co-owner of Grant Central Pizza near Grant Park, opened a tsunami of, um, discussion after adding a note to parents to the menu. (This was after the restaurant got some bad online reviews and a customer was hit in the head with a toy.)
“Dear all present and future patrons,” the menu insert read, “Unfortunately a number of our diners have posted unpleasant experiences because of crying and unsupervised children. To ensure that all diners have an enjoyable lunch or dinner with us, we respectfully ask that parents tend to their crying tots outside.”
First, I must note, if a restaurant must explain this, then you are certifiably a numbskull. Granted, they could have also written pleas for customers not to be boisterous drunks or loud cell phone conversants. But those are subjects for another day.
Let the blowback begin
The pizzeria’s request went global, being picked up by countless blogs, Time magazine, NBC News and Britain’s Daily Mail. A reading of the Daily Mail readers’ comments shows little Brits can be snots, too.
Here, stateside, there were some holding up for hands-off parents.
“I won’t go there even when I don’t have my kid,” one angry mother of a 4-year-old huffed online. “If a restaurant ever told me my daughter was not allowed, I’d just leave… Then, I’d blast the hell out of them on (Facebook,) TBMG, and if I really feel that strongly about it, I’d Tweet it too.”
Margaret Kaiser, a Georgia state rep whose husband is the pizzeria’s co-owner, tried to be diplomatic while explaining the ruckus to me. Kaiser is going to run for mayor of Atlanta but I figure she would be swept into office if she promised to make that menu addendum into law.
“You struggle when you’re a small restaurant trying to make it and you have disruptive kids and patrons who don’t like it,” she said.
I asked why menu addition went global. “Because (Parmer) was brutally honest,” she said. “And we don’t have enough of that in today’s world.”
Restaurants’ choice: butts or brats?
If you want honesty that’s brutal, dial Michael Benoit, who owns The Vortex, a tavern in Midtown and Little Five Points that makes delicious burgers.
Benoit and two siblings started the Midtown Vortex in 1992. They allowed kids because the three were new to the business — infants, you might say.
But they grew up fast. Over the next decade they discovered an ugly secret: “There are many parents who believe they can bring their kids anywhere they go and they have the right to let their kids behave any way they want,” he said. “It’s a feeling of entitlement. They feel entitled to impose their poorly behaved children on everybody else, no matter how annoying they are.”
Once, a parent chastised them because the Vortex was not child-friendly — the bar had several autographed photos of strippers on the wall.
“One guy came up to me saying it’s terrible that you have photos of strippers on your wall, a place where I bring my 6-year-old son,” Benoit recalled. “Um, excuse me, YOU made the decision to bring your 6-year-old to a bar!”
In 2005, the state passed a law saying that restaurants couldn’t admit children if it also permitted smoking. It forced many eateries to make tough decisions: Kids or butts. But it wasn’t hard for Benoit.
“It was a no-brainer,” Benoit said. “Smokers have always been better customers than children.”
So, if you’re in the mood, come savor an artery-clogging burger, puff on a smoke at the bar, maybe even gawk at stripper pics. Just don’t bring Junior — unless he’s 21.