Disruption and Destruction: Should Restaurants Ban Kids?

Houston's Cuchara restaurant just spent $1,500 to re-plaster and repaint a wall. The damage was caused by a child.

Owner Ana Beaven says that the child scratched the wall extensively with a coin. “His mother was texting at the table. We talked to her and she was almost aggressive. She said, ‘He’s just a little kid. He was expressing himself.’” The woman offered to pay for the paint, but sent the check for $40 with an angry letter saying the restaurant made her feel horrible and her child had been traumatized. Beaven says that the restaurant’s insurance does not cover damage caused by children.

Hubcap Grill owner Ricky Craig was in his kitchen on 19th Street wondering what the popping noise was that he heard over and over again. A customer soon approached and said, “Sir, someone keeps banging on your glass.” Craig walked out the back door and found the problem. A group of kids were throwing rocks at the back of the building, including the glass back door. Craig opened the back door and said, “You have two seconds to put down those rocks or I’ll make you clean out the grease traps.” 

He walked over to the parents to inform them that their kids were throwing rocks. He said, “Their exact words were, ‘Well, they have to have some form of entertainment! It’s not that big of a deal and they aren’t disturbing anybody!’” Of course, some of Craig’s customers had in fact been disturbed during their meals.

Darla Neugebauer, owner of Marcy’s Diner in Portland, Maine, made national headlines in July for yelling at a two-year-old to stop crying. Neugebauer claimed that the calamity had gone on for 40 minutes and, despite bringing the parents to-go boxes and asking them to either take the child outside or leave, ten minutes later, the family was still there and the child was still crying.

The parents accused Neugebauer of traumatizing their child and claim the crying had gone on for only a few minutes.

These are just a few of the incidents causing restaurant owners to struggle with the quandary of how to protect their property without alienating families with well-behaved kids. However, some kids are causing potentially nightmarish scenarios that endanger both themselves and others.

After repeated disruptions, La Fisheria implemented a controversial policy in August 2013 to ban kids under age nine after 7 p.m. Now, other restaurant owners are struggling to avoid adopting similar policies.

After a child standing on top of a picnic table fell and busted open his chin, Craig posted a sign with wording provided by his attorney warning parents that the restaurant would not be liable for their kids’ safety. Craig says the sign has actually helped somewhat, although one parent angrily declined to eat at Hubcap Grill, saying the sign meant the restaurant was discriminating against her children.

Beaven says that during one mealtime at Cuchara, a little girl lay in the middle of a carpet and threw a tantrum. Her mother walked food over to her misbehaving child one bite at a time but never actually asked the child to get up and sit at the table. Beaven had to intervene when the girl started grabbing at the ankles of waiters walking past with trays full of hot food.

“Our trays are super-heavy because we have all of these metal dishes,” says Beaven. “So I talked to the mother and said, ‘She cannot be laying on the carpet. She’s going to cause an accident that could hurt her.’ You know what the mother told me? ‘Well, she has to release that anger and then she’ll be fine.’ I was speechless. Finally, the father, who was more sensible, took her out to the patio.”

Besides the $1,500 wall repair, Cuchara has suffered other types of property damage. The restaurant has handcrafted items from Mexico that it both sells and uses as decorations. These are art, but the bright colors and smaller-size items lead small children to believe they are toys. Often, kids left unsupervised damage the items. One customer noticed what was happening to the recent display of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) items and posted a note and photo to Cuchara’s Facebook page: 

Implementing a dinnertime ban like La Fisheria’s will not help Cuchara. Beaven says most of the issues happen during the day on the weekends. To try to alleviate the problems, she had a postcard printed that’s given to families with kids when they enter the restaurant. It’s not helping as much as she hoped.

“Some [parents] won’t even read it and even throw it to the floor,” said Beaven. “Some people ask, ‘Is this necessary?’ and I say, ‘Well, yes, because kids feel attracted to our mural and want to touch it. It’s a piece of art. It gets ruined with fingerprints.’ Other people take it in a really good way and say [to their kids], ‘See? You have to behave when you come here.’ The kids more or less respond, but when they see their parent totally disregarding our little beg, then they behave horribly.”

Ricky Craig believes he’s had some success with his sign, but it’s not a total victory. There are still instances of parents allowing their children to run wild, cry, scream and disturb his other customers. Now that he’s a proud uncle, Craig recognizes that the reason kids cry is that they need something. “I think it’s very rude and very uncouth to sit there and let your baby cry and scream when obviously there’s a problem and you’re not handling it. Maybe he’s tired. Maybe he needs to be fed. I can’t stand for parents to sit there and ignore [their] own child while they eat,” says Craig.

Still, Craig doesn’t want to implement a total ban on kids. “I don’t think anybody should be banned from restaurants,” he said.

For now, restaurant owners have no choice but to continue to agonize over what to do about destructive kids and the distracted, lax or hostile parents who refuse to supervise them.  
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Phaedra Cook
Contact: Phaedra Cook