Should parents bring a baby or small child to a restaurant? What's more, should parents stay in a restaurant once that tot starts to act, well, like a child?
It's a question that doesn't leave much in the way of a gray area for many diners, restaurant owners and those concerned with matters of social etiquette.
One famous Michelin-star chef in Chicago considered a baby ban when a couple's 8 month old began crying during dinner. Although the chef’s partner eventually decided against the crying babies ban, it's a sentiment that may be mirrored by other restaurant owners.
“As a father of toddlers, I encourage parents to select kid-friendly restaurants when they dine with younger children”,” says Vincenzo Mangiafridda, owner of 83 ½, a restaurant in New York City.
"My wife rarely eats at 83 ½ because our son is not old enough to behave appropriately in such a setting.” While he hasn't enacted a ban or definitive policy, he's aware of how a crying child can affect his company's reputation among diners. “My business is my livelihood, and its success is dependent upon providing an enjoyable experience for all our customers.”
My business is my livelihood, and its success is dependent upon providing an enjoyable experience for all our customers.
—Vincenzo Mangiafridda, owner, 83 ½
Some restaurateurs are using the baby-in-a-restaurant debate as an opportunity to attract more parents."Restaurants and fine hotel restaurants are contacting our team to provide babysitters for dinners and brunch services," says Rachel Charlupski of The Babysitting Company. "It is helpful for the restaurant—more diners come in because they can have their children with them while also getting time alone."
Many parents course correct before matters turn viral.
"We find that if a baby is upset, the parent usually gets up and takes him or her for a walk on the street," says Michelle Chin, co-owner of Smoke BBQ in Delray Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "It helps that our locations are in beautiful pedestrian areas so when they come back, the baby is calm. We also offer them crayons and coloring paper to give them an activity before they order their meals."
Whether or not a restaurant will be completely family friendly depends on the owner. But no matter what you decide to do—create a family-friendly environment or enact a baby ban—make sure that your customers know your decision, whether it's through a disclaimer on your website or signage in the restaurant. That way, if an exchange between you and a parent goes viral, at least you can say they were warned.
“Customers will not typically complain in person, but will write a negative review on social media,” Mangiafridda points out.
And the fallout from that may be even worse than any baby's cries.
Read more articles about customer service.
A version of this article was originally published on July 30, 2015.