Asking for a Friend: Is It Rude to Take a Baby to a Restaurant?
Welcome back, aspiring ladies and gents! We're hitting you with another installment of Asking for a Friend, Tasting Table's shiny, new etiquette advice column penned by yours truly, Miss Conduct (my real name, honest).
As you might recall, last week we got to the bottom of crucial seasoning sins (if you aren't caught up, head on over here). Today, however, we're going from the plate to the pram, tackling a much-discussed, endlessly contentious question that's been plaguing both patrons and servers since the invention of hot food: Is it rude to take babies to fine dining restaurants?
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This query has popped up on etiquette forums all over the Internet, from Quora to Reddit and back again, and always sparks a massive, heated debate. And it's not just hypothetical troll chatter either. In 2013, a Williamsburg couple turned more than a few heads when they took not just their baby but an entire crib to brunch at a trendy neighborhood café. And in 2014, celebrity chef Grant Achatz famously flipped out when a crying baby disrupted a dinner service at his Michelin-starred Alinea. "Tbl brings 8mo.Old. It cries. Diners mad," the Chicago restaurateur Tweeted. "Tell ppl no kids? Subject diners 2crying? Ppl take infants 2 plays? Concerts? Hate saying no,but.."
That's all to say that this is one hot-button issue we're finally putting to bed.
Don't. do. it.
First off, let me get one thing out of the way: Yes, I am (to the best of my knowledge) childless. Don't get me wrong—I adore kids. My nieces and nephews are the sticky-fingered lights of my life. I have, however, waited many a table. And I can tell you, without a doubt, a screaming infant has no business being at a nice restaurant. It's unpleasant for the staff, a nightmare for fellow diners, stressful for the parents and a real pain in the butt for the chef who has to whip up Baby Leopold's "plain buttered pasta" just to hear that it was somehow "too spicy." It's a lose-lose, especially when you're forced to make nice or watch your tip fly out the window like Edith's Legos.
"People actually bring children and babies into the restaurant way more than you'd think they would," a New York-based fine dining professional tells me. "I've had to bring scoops of ice cream or bowls of berries to the table to calm down a youngin. Usually, I just try to be sweet and win over the parents, because if you feel annoyed or pissed, everyone can tell and it doesn't get you anywhere." Even if he's a pristinely well-behaved little prince, your toddler's grubby, ketchup-stained hands shouldn't come anywhere near my $130 dry-aged porterhouse.
"I can't really say if babies aren't OK or not—we're living in a different era, and people don't seem to stop going out once their baby is born," my remarkably patient friend continues. "I can say, though, that it's definitely preferred for families to come in early and GTFO quickly as to not disturb the other tables."
On some level, taking your tot out on the town is inevitable. People will continue to procreate, as well as need to be fed, and, occasionally, the two might need to coincide. But seriously, my dudes, if you're going to throw down a couple bills on a world-class supper, I'm thinking you can probably toss a twenty at a sitter, too.
There are a few work-arounds to this hard and fast rule, of course. Family-friendly restaurants (the ones with kids' menus, play areas, crayons, overly cheerful servers, etc.) are obviously fair game for any age. And if you must go fancy, consider going for lunch, a more casual and generally less-populated affair, or book the first dinner seating (those early birds probably can't hear too well anyway).
Final answer? No babies. Unless you're Jay Z and Beyoncé, of course. Blue Ivy Carter can go anywhere she damn well pleases.
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