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Get that crying baby away from my foie gras

Alinea's Grant Achatz

Alinea's Grant Achatz

The baby in question is now a 22-year-old high school economics teacher, but I recall the incident that launched a thousand letters as if it were yesterday. She had placed her pudgy little fingers on the edge of the glass table topper just as the waiter slammed the neighboring table into place against it. She looked startled, her lip trembled, and then she let out a yowp that could divert a herd of wildebeest.

I scooped my daughter up into my arms to take her outside, but apparently not fast enough.

The manager came over, his voice dripping with condescension. “I’m afraid the young lady will have to leave,” he said, snapping shut our menus. “We can’t have crying babies in this restaurant.”

We explained the situation — I remember saying, “I would’ve cried if the waited had pinched my fingers between two tables.” — and stayed for our meal. But the manager made it clear he wanted us out as soon as possible and wouldn’t support “any more outbursts.” Young, foolish restaurant critic that I was, I wrote about the whole incident.

Ah, the crying-baby-in-the-restaurant story. It’s as old as the cliche “cooked to perfection.” We hate seeing the little things when we go out to eat, right? Momentarily cute, possible stinky, willfully oblivious to the glory around them as they sit in their car seats sleeping with heads tilted, noses crusty, drool pooling at the corners of their button mouths.

And then bam, they freak out. Just as you’re going, “Oooh, foie gras,” they’re shouting to the heavens, “Get me out of this hellhole!”

The restaurant baby has been all over the news for a couple of weeks thanks to an exasperated tweet from Chicago chef Grant Achatz:

“Tbl brings 8mo.Old. It cries. Diners mad. Tell ppl no kids? Subject diners 2crying? Ppl take infants 2 plays? Concerts? Hate saying no,but…”

The Twitterverse shivered. People brought a baby to Alinea? The restaurant that serves a zillion courses over the course of four hours at a cost that starts at $225 per person? The restaurant where reservations are so rare you’ve got to buy non-refundable tickets online?

They did. The media seized upon this age-old story given new immediacy. Baby haters took up their pitchforks. (Be gone, cutie pies! Out of our town!) Achatz appeared on “Good Morning America” to defend his tweet. A reasonably funny parody Twitter account (@AlineaBaby) made a quick entrance, center stage.

The Chicago Reader had to sort through all the erroneously media chatter about a couple who lost their babysitter to find out the real story. The table was a party of four that brought the baby without any warning or apology. A manager had to eventually ask the baby’s presumed mother to walk it around the foyer, but she returned after a minute and let it continue crying. Achatz doesn’t have any intention to ban babies from his gastro-temple, but that he blames parents like these who are oblivious to the comfort of others. “It almost felt like it was people projecting this entitlement,” he told the newspaper. “Like ‘We’re here, we can do whatever we want, we paid for it.’ “

That sounds like a fair response. But we still hate babies in restaurants, right? The way they pull at those silly plush toys tangling from their stroller bars. The way their squeals of delight are the wrong kinds of public squeals. (Not like, say, squealing drunk people, who are to be expected.)

Babies are a perpetual reminder of things we’d really prefer to not think about when we dine. Food dropped on floors. Incontinence. Our mothers. Ugh. A baby in this restaurant? Really? Can’t those people get a babysitter?

Older kids don’t get a much warmer welcome. They play video games at the table! They color, they read, they take out decks of cards and half-naked Barbies and splay them about. Can’t those people get a babysitter?

Anyone who has ever written a restaurant restaurant review and had the temerity to mention a kid knows to prepare for the backlash. “You brought your brat to that restaurant?” “I’m glad I wasn’t sitting next to you.” “I hope you left your waitress a nice tip because she hated you.”

We keep doing it, though, because we’re parents. Some of us are bad parents who let our kids run loose, practice their outdoor voices and leave handfuls of noodles dribbled down the side of a highchair and onto the floor. Some of us are good parents who clean up after ourselves, tip generously and take the shrieky ones outside for a toddle around the shopping mall until we get the “food’s here” text.

I’ve been dealing with this issue for more than two decades, ever since I wrote that first review. Man, I got so many letters. Most people hated on me for bringing my kid into a restaurant. A few commiserated.

The best letter came from the chef, who apologized for the manager’s behavior and told me that his wife often watched their own two toddlers in a back space they had turned into a playroom. If she was around, she was always happy to invite kids back so their parents could enjoy a few minutes of peace during dinner. Could I help spread the word? I did, and before long that restaurant was known as one of the nicest kid-friendly places in town.

(Here’s my 2010 report on dinner at Alinea.)

- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog

47 comments Add your comment

SteveQS

January 21st, 2014
12:48 pm

As the father of a two year old we would never take our son to any restaurant, especially one that is not considered a place for small children. While he is normally well behaved we certainly cannot guarantee his behavior. Also the world does not revolve around us because we chose to crank out a kid. Nor would we teach our child the lesson that the world should revolve around him and his mood.

There are places to go eat with small children, go there.

SAWB

January 21st, 2014
1:01 pm

If a private business wants to ban babies that’s fine let the free market decide. While they’re at it ban drunks, loud talkers, groups of more than six, people who complain about the food/service, cell phones, coats on the back of chairs, etc, etc, etc…

FoodFan

January 21st, 2014
1:03 pm

Agreed with Steve above – I have a 2-year old and a 4 month old. We wouldn’t take them to a restaurant like Alinea (in fact, an experience like that, how could you even relax & enjoy it with having to dote on your kids??) There are places we take our kids – casual Mexican, pizza, etc. – and appropriate times (5:00-5:30). But nothing beneficial could come out of a 2-3 hour meal that you make your young child sit through anyway- they’ll get bored, antsy, and start crying, no matter how “well behaved” they are (and my kids are really well behaved but even so I know better).

AtlJack

January 21st, 2014
1:07 pm

Let’s be clear. No one hates BABIES. They dislike the incredibly self-centered parents who bring babies and young children who disturb their meals.

If you can afford $225 a plate you can afford a nanny or a sitter.

What’s amazing is that you write this story oblivious that YOU are the selfish person who simply wants you way regardless of those around you.

Bisnono

January 21st, 2014
1:08 pm

When I go out to a special dinner with my husband at a nice we get dressed up and get a sitter for our 2-year-old. As parents, we occasionally need time to be able to focus on each other and to invest in our relationship. I love my son, and for a toddler he is pretty good in restaurants, but but out of respect for the other diners, he stays home. There are certain places where babies simply do not belong. Unfortunately, I think some parents show extremely poor judgement and it brings out the worst in those who instead of a quiet, romantic dinner for 2, are treated to an evening of an overtired infant whose parents are oblivious or so self-absorbed that the poor baby cries frantically trying to get what it needs. I feel sorry for those kids.

STB

January 21st, 2014
1:10 pm

Well said SAWB. We take our infant and toddler out to eat with us. If they behanve poorly we take them outside until they are calm and try to eat quickly and leave. We enjoy eating out and spend a lot of money doing so. I believe that the restaurants we frequent mostly appreciate our business, kids or no. A drunk ahole or a loud phone talker is way worse than a whiny baby IMO.

Ima jochin

January 21st, 2014
1:26 pm

I take my 3 and 5 year old kids everywhere i want to that that they are allowed. If the establishment/event does not allow kids, then obviously I dont take them. If they make an amount of noise that is beyond what i consider normal, I deal with it.

Unfortunately, the grown up prat talking/laughing loudly/drunkly usually does not have anyone to make sure they moderate their behavior.

ATL jack – in the $225 case above, the couple did have a babysitter – that cancelled. Lose $450 or go for it was their choice.

Cassy

January 21st, 2014
1:39 pm

If someone told me that my crying baby would have to leave, I’d have to sue. That’s discrimination. A baby is a person, get over your self. Babies cry, it’s a part of life! We all cried as babies and this saga will never end as long as humans continue to reproduce. I am more bothered by the parents lacking dicipline over there child, than the child themselves. 9 times out of 10, the parent is going to get up and take the baby out to console him or her; however, if a baby cries without the parents lifting a finger, the problem either way is with the parents. Although, no one really wants to be interrupted by a crying baby, it’s not that big of a deal. I am bothered by people who find it hard to cope with a crying baby at a restaurant. You can always leave.

Marsh

January 21st, 2014
1:57 pm

Ima..you should actually read the article. That isn’t true, and even if it were, it’s still no excuse for the parents’ behavior.

aon

January 21st, 2014
2:15 pm

A voice of reason, thank you SteveQS.

Jack

January 21st, 2014
2:35 pm

If my kids can not behave then we won’t go to a nice restaurant. We have pretty much decided that if they don’t have a kids menu that we won’t go. We would save the nice restaurant for a date night. You have to be practical and not be rude to everyone around you.

Lanjo

January 21st, 2014
2:42 pm

Ima jochin, allowed and appropriate are two very different things. Your kids may be allowed at this fancy restaurant, but it’s inappropriate to bring them to a restaurant where others have paid for a nice dinner. I agree, there are many other distractions which can be equally as irritating. However, we’re discussing children at restaurants. If the discussion comes up about cell phones, my comment would be the same. In the case above, the story says the babysitter excuse was erroneous. The couple showed up with a baby without notice or apology. The couple should have found someone to use the dinner tickets or forfeit the money. Instead, they chose to ruin dinner for everyone else that night. Inappropriate and inconsiderate!

ATLien

January 21st, 2014
2:45 pm

I have a kid and I see both sides.
1) We took our 2 month old to my brother’s graduation dinner at South City Kitchen. We were fully prepared to jet if she made a peep. Lucky for us, she slept the whole time and no one event noticed she was there – even the server. Like I said, we were lucky.
2) Fast forward to last summer and our now 7 yr old was dining with us at 246 on the back deck. She’s eating her $15 bowl of pasta when the diners next to use loudly comment “I never got to go to fine dining when I was a kid. I can’t believe so many people let their kids go these days.” REALLY?? It took everything I had not to tell them to mind their own “f**king business and that she had just as much right to eat there as they did! She wasn’t crying, she wasn’t yelling, she wasn’t even talking! But, somehow her very presence at 246 irked these people.

There’s no easy way to solve the debate. If you ban kids, parents go on a owner/chef witch hunt. If you allow them or have no real policy for or against then, irresponsible, self-absorbed parents take their place at the table and other diners suffer.

Maybe get rid of the coat check room and turn it into a small play room with sitter staff? :-)

MsBulldawg

January 21st, 2014
2:51 pm

Like others, you start with taking your kids to child-friendly establishments and then progress form there. When my sons were younger, we always expalined to them where we were going and EXACTLY waht was expected of them in the way of behavior. There was only one occasion when our then 4-year old got disturbed. I promptly took him outside, reminded him of my expectaiotns and gave him the choice of sitting in the car with me or returning inside to his finish his meal. He decided the mac-and-cheese trumped the car.
On a side note, if you see a family with children in a restaurant and they are behaving, take a moment to stop and compliment the kids and there parents. It is amazing the impact it has on everyone.

EDGEWOOD

January 21st, 2014
2:55 pm

Here is what really happened. http://www.chicagoreader.com/Bleader/archives/2014/01/16/are-you-hungry-for-specifics-in-this-weeks-huge-alinea-story

Kids are gross. Wouldn’t it be easier for everyone involved if you just got your food to go? It always blows my mind when I see a huge group even at a casual restaurant (831 Osteria comes to mind). The kids are running around like crazy. The parents are ignoring them. Everyone else is bothered. Why not just get the food to go and let everyone including your kids be more comfortable? I just don’t get it.

EDGEWOOD

January 21st, 2014
2:57 pm

On a side note, parents are so used to the awful sounds that children make that they have been rendered immune. I think most parents really do not even notice their kid is driving the other diners nuts. I take it with a grain of salt when somebody says that their kids act fine. Maybe they are not standing on the table urinating while screaming but they are still probably bothering other diners.

EDGEWOOD

January 21st, 2014
3:03 pm

@Ms Bulldawg,

Why should you be complimented for doing what YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO DO??? Are you going to come compliment me for putting my napkin in my lap or changing hands when I use my knife and fork?

EDGEWOOD

January 21st, 2014
3:05 pm

Its pretty simple. You don’t get to eat in nice places for 6 years when you have a kid. You get a tax break. That is the trade off.

Bigdawgtoo

January 21st, 2014
3:17 pm

Edgewood- I bet you don’t have children. Thank goodness b/c your’re an idiot

Bisnono

January 21st, 2014
3:20 pm

Edgewood, I assume you knew exactly how to behave and were a perfect model of such behavior every time you ate at a restaurant when you were a child, and have never been anything but polite and gracious and well-mannered while dining out as an adult. From your post, it’s clear that you were just an absolute joy to everyone who knew you when you were growing up. Bravo on accomplishing dining perfection, something to which the rest of us uncultured slobs with gross, misbehaving kids can only aspire.

EDGEWOOD

January 21st, 2014
3:35 pm

Bisnono,

Not only was I great I was also a baby model.

EDGEWOOD

January 21st, 2014
3:39 pm

@Bigdawgtoo,

I do not have children. I am a successful married DINK (duel income, no kids) I order wine with dinner. I tip well. I am every restaurant’s dream. Care to explain which part of my rants make me an idiot? If you can get your poopy fingers clean for long enough to respond I would love to hear it. You can get butthurt all you want. But that does not mean that I am wrong. If we eat at the same place you would never know I was even there.

Jtom

January 21st, 2014
3:59 pm

It’s amazing the people will justify their rude, inconsiderate behavior (bringing babies to inappropriate places) by pointing to the rude, inconsiderate behavior of others (drunks, loud people, etc). Ok, there may be some as rude as you are. Proud of that, are we?

I like restaurants that enforce dress codes, and I have yet to see a baby in a coat and tie or heels. Problem solved.

frank

January 21st, 2014
4:13 pm

I have two children who have never given me trouble at restaurants or evenings out. Aged 9 and 14, I have had other diners stop and compliment their behavior. My wife and I are the rare parents who did not even tolerate our children turning around to stare at other diners. Still I would never take them to a $225 pp spot as a courtesy to my fellow diners. I have witnessed several occasions when parents allow there kids to run amok, seemingly oblivious to the imposition on other couples/families. Understand that your enjoyment should not come at the expense of other people, no matter how they feel about kids.

Baltisraul........

January 21st, 2014
4:17 pm

Lets face it babies don’t belong in every situation. But children that are 3 and older can be taken any where. If you have trained your child properly you never have to worry about their behavior. We put them on the ‘ there is no second chance’ rule. If they misbehaved in public you just dropped what you are dong and take them home for their punishment. We have raised 4 children and only had to come home twice; once from the supermarket, with a basket full of their favorites included. The second was at a nice restaurant, just as the food was being served. The parents must endure the hardship as well but it gives you a peaceful 11 or 12 years of never having to say ’stop that’!

Jason

January 21st, 2014
4:22 pm

I agree that very young children should not go to a fine dining establishment. But we take our five year old and six month old out all the time to casual restaurants. If the were acting inappropriately and/or crying hysterically, I would take them outside until the situation passed. However, there’s always going to be unwanted noise to someone, somewhere. Maybe we should ban the loud drunks using profanity. Maybe we should ban the people who laugh too loud. Maybe we should ban the people who yell at the TV when sports are on when it isn’t a sports bar. And maybe we should ban cell phones so people would actually have to have a conversation with the person across the table from them. All of those things annoy me. There are all kinds of things to get irritated about. If you don’t like a little noise or what other people do, then don’t go out in public.

Check yourself

January 21st, 2014
4:27 pm

Simple rule:

If the restaurant has a baby changing station in either or both bathrooms then it is a family friendly dinning spot.

Ask the host or hostess before being seated.

Save you and others some grief and remember nobody thinks other children are special even you.

Ned Ludd

January 21st, 2014
4:31 pm

Please don’t make the mistake of assuming that age is the only criteria for judging childishness.

EDGEWOOD

January 21st, 2014
4:33 pm

What restaurant are you people going to where you are regularly encountering people so drunk they are disturbing you while you dine? Or did you bring your child to a bar?

PhilJ

January 21st, 2014
4:35 pm

@EDGEWOOD, Yes, you are a legend in your own mind. Just to paraphrase – “I’m perfect and the world should conform to my standard.”

Donald

January 21st, 2014
4:51 pm

As a parent to a 15 month old, my wife and I try to go out to child friendly places at off-peak hours. If a place has well worn child seats, then that usually a good indicator that the path has been blazed before and I feel comfortable about bringing in the tyke. For you parents out here, you know the child seats that have crumbs galore, broken straps and wobbly legs (well worn, right?). After wiping down the seat, jimmy rigging the straps boy scouts style and finding a sturdy chair, we commence with the “experiment.” Luckily, it’s been clear sailing thus far.

We usually only go out on weekends and at early-ish hours 8am or so for breakfast and around 2pm – 4pm for late lunch/early dinner. I am very self-conscious of the behavior of my child, so when it looks like the little dude is about to blow up, I am quick to grab and leave if necessary. It is just totally undude of people to check common decency at the door. We’ve not gone on a flight for the past year and a half out of fear of being that uncouth couple with the screaming baby. Our four free flight vouchers are about to expire too. Oh well.

We’ve knowingly signed up for these consequences, but don’t let it all be doom and gloom. Kids’ meals are not all that bad. Who doesn’t mind an extra chicken finger or two when the little guy can’t finish the plate?

for real

January 21st, 2014
5:01 pm

i am in total agreement with Edgewood. I have two kids an until I felt they were age appropriate I would like to think I was considerate I hate to dine when your kids are disturbing me I chose to find a sitter and let mine stay home…there is nothing wrong with a little enjoyment outside of kids ok they are fun cute and cuddly but that does not mean I want them to disturb my nice evening…..Go Edgewood point made. I get it!!! for the family that disturbed the $225 meal you should be ashamed and I expect reimbursement of my meal because you and your “family” made it not enjoyable i was glad when yall was escorted out….Kudos

Kev

January 21st, 2014
5:37 pm

ima jochin wrote: “ATL jack – in the $225 case above, the couple did have a babysitter – that cancelled. Lose $450 or go for it was their choice.”

Even if that were the case concert tickets and tickets for plays are also non-refundable. Should they have brought their baby to a rock concert or play simply because the tickets are non-refundable?

aprilmae

January 21st, 2014
5:43 pm

John, you seem uncharasterically bitter on this issue. I’ve brought babies and young children to Panera, the local pizza place, and other kid-friendly venues. It’s fun for them (less so for me) and they learn how to behave in a restaurant.

Would I bring anyone under age, say, 16 to a fine dining establishment? Of course not. When people dress up for an evening out it’s adult time. For the life of me I don’t see what’s so complicated or controversial about this fundamental social norm.

bc

January 21st, 2014
7:39 pm

Edgewood and Donald are 100% correct…very well said to both of you.

It’s nuts to hear how many parents of babies believe that their baby is well-behaved. I’m guessing you also believe your baby is soooo much smarter, stronger, better looking, etc than all the other babies, too. Reality check: your kid is annoying to other people. The sound of your pride and joy crying is like fingernails on a chalkboard to the rest of the restaurant. Everybody doesn’t think your baby is cute and isn’t interested in being around it. Yes, it’s far worse than cell phones, drunk people, profanity, etc. Much worse.

I think the changing table in the bathrooms rule is a great one. I am also the parent of a 8 month old (but not blind enough to think everybody else thinks my tyke is great).

NewEnglandLady1978

January 21st, 2014
11:53 pm

Parents who want to bring their small kids to non-child friendly restaurants and other inappropriate places always invoke the presence of drunks as a defense. I’m not shocked this author has used that tired straw man yet again.

Yes – you are right – loud drunks should not be allowed to ruin the experience of diners at fancy (or not-so-fancy) establishments. I think most people would agree with that and expect management to take appropriate action to rid themselves of said drunk. That doesn’t change the fact that your loud child is a problem as well.

Also, while I am very sorry that your kid got their fingers slammed, that’s on you. You choose to bring them into the world and into the restaurant and you are responsible for watching where they stick their fingers, because kids are know to invite mishap by sticking their mitts in dangerous places. Sorry that simple fact of life was such a pain in your ass, but again, they are your kids, not mine and not the waiter’s. If it was Chucky Cheeze, my opinion might be different, but if I’m understanding correctly, this was a fairly nice restaurant you were in.

Maybe they were too fast to try to kick you out, but I can’t say I blame them for acting quickly to get rid of a patron who was disturbing other customers (key word). This is how the waitstaff and others earn their living – by ensuring that the *majority* of their customers have a great experience, tip accordingly, and return. The business model would be different in a family restaurant or fast food joint. I’m guessing the hard truth is that they correctly assumed that you were a less valuable customer than the multitude of other patrons who your kid was potentially disturbing.

(Again, before we chase the squealing intoxicated adult rabbit down his hole, I think most people would want them to act every bit as quickly with the loud drunk. It isn’t either/or. It should be both. And if you have a kid or a drinking problem, that’s your tough luck – go elsewhere.)

And for the record, I don’t care if your kid whips out Barbie at Chili’s, but I don’t want to see her naked, plastic behind when I’m eating in a fancy restaurant. That is not an unreasonable request – its on par with keeping someone in flip-flops and a tank top out of the same establishment.

John Kessler

January 22nd, 2014
8:32 am

Yep, there we go….

CandyKane

January 22nd, 2014
8:52 am

Balt….that is so old school and it is so great to hear you and your wife/husband had the fortitude to follow thru on the no second chance rule. Children remember that experience because it is so life changing. Congrats.

EDGEWOOD

January 22nd, 2014
9:11 am

I D#*K not DINK.

EDGEWOOD

January 22nd, 2014
9:11 am

Tobiaz Johansen

January 22nd, 2014
2:22 pm

Edgeswood is the mehn! I har reading his nice comments to this page. Go get ‘em my ITP frenn!

Tobiaz Johansen

January 22nd, 2014
2:23 pm

Oh, also I notice many fett babys when I ams to dine..

1164mgc

January 22nd, 2014
9:46 pm

If you do not want to risk being in the presence of human beings (including children) then STAY HOME. What kind of society are we where people demand others leave their kids at home? If you don’t like to be around kids, it’s YOUR problem. There are kids who are problems. There are adults who are problems as well. Are you going to demand that they stay home too, so YOU can have a pleasant experience? Get over it or stay home.

[...] Get that crying baby away from my foie gras The baby in question is now a 22-year-old high school economics teacher, but I recall the incident that launched a thousand letters as if it were yesterday. She had … The way they pull at those silly plush toys tangling from their stroller bars. The … Read more on Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

EDGEWOOD

January 23rd, 2014
9:01 am

Here is the other part about brining your baby or very young child to a restaurant. It is only for you! The baby / small child could care less about being there. The only reason the child is there is because the parent selfishly dragged them there. I have friends with very little manners. I do not drag them to nice places. They don’t want to be there and will not act properly. Just like your baby….

Jake Ralls

January 23rd, 2014
9:50 am

I always brine my baby – makes him nice and juicy

berry steve

January 23rd, 2014
1:32 pm

1164mgc …..your post at 9:46 makes no sense.