I’m Sorry, We Don’t Have High Chairs

CNN ran a piece recently about children in fine dining, specifically in New York. It’s a fairly well-written piece, but doesn’t reflect the anti side of the matter (and I’m sure there are plenty of chefs and owners lined up to give their thoughts there). 

I think it’s fair to say that most are of two minds on the subject of children in fine-dining restaurants. The thoughts range from, “they better behave” to, “it’s great that parents are teaching their kids to eat more adventurously than pb&j” to, “you’re spending how much on those underdeveloped taste buds?” to the flat out, “oh no”.

All, I might add, legitimate. We don’t actually have high chairs, that’s not an elitist lie. We don’t have them because of cost, the size and shape of our restaurant (we have all of two tables out of 23 that will accommodate an end-capping chair – and we don’t even allow VIPs to do that), infrequency of child guests and well… here’s where I’m not going to BS you, it’s not a child-friendly restaurant. The food is advanced, at least at dinnertime, requires (for maximum enjoyment) that each element be eaten together on the fork which means a certain amount of manual dexterity, and – from a certain chef’s perspective – an advanced or at the very least appreciative palette.

Now please do not misunderstand me. When I see well-behaved children in the restaurant my heart sings. I’ve seen high school culinary groups order foie gras and love it. I’ve seen a 10 year-old girl devour sweetbreads. I’ve seen a blond, curly-haired angel of a boy gumming artisan bread. Something about that is wonderful. Teaching kids early on what good food is, that it’s a luxury not all can enjoy or have access to, and in addition to training their tongues is training them about a different social environment.

Teaching a child to look a server in the eye and clearly state their desires with a “please” and a “thank you” while recognizing that their job demands respect despite being there to serve, gives me hope for the future generations. I would love to see a quick public service class taught to everyone (not just kids) on how to behave in restaurants that are four and five star establishments. The fact is, at my place anyway, most of the kids that come to eat there are privileged. They are used to sitting up straight and not making a fuss. They’re easy. Toddlers on the other hand, toddlers I think I can say, don’t belong there. It is not the sort of place they can go anywhere but their parents’ laps or the chair they’re in. It happens, it usually happens at lunch or early in the night and the parents are keen to eat quickly. I have yet to see one of them spaz out. I think the parents know exactly where they are and the risks they’re running.

I’ve seen parents who are presumably too scared to leave their newborn with a sitter (or who couldn’t get a sitter as easily as they could get a reservation) walk in with a baby in a carrier without informing us prior, proceed to put the carrier under the table as they dined with the baby sleeping almost through the entire meal. At dinnertime. At tables which are at most, five inches apart from one another. Now that was a risk.

So what all it comes down to, at least for us, is this: no strollers in the dining room. Ever. If you must have a high chair, we will borrow one from next door. If your kids will eat what’s on their plates, you are always welcome. If your kids are into food in a major way, they may even get a kitchen tour. We aren’t anti-kid. We just want you to know what you’re getting into, especially when the bill comes.

Fine dining is not a place for elbows on the table, yelling, backwards baseball hats, cell phones held up to noses rather than talking to companions, walking around or high fives – and you know what? The only people I’ve ever seen do that in my restaurant, are the adults.

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