Waaaaaah!t to do? Crying baby ignites controversy over restaurants' policies

Waaaaaah!t to do? Crying baby ignites controversy over restaurants' policies

January 22nd, 2014 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

Photo Illustrationby Sara Jackson/Thinkstock Photos

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

That's a Tweet from Grant Achatz, the chef/owner of Alinea, an upscale restaurant in Chicago that sets a flat, prepaid rate for dinner from its Tasting Menu -- $210 to $265 per person. A couple of Saturdays ago, a couple brought their 8-month-old into the restaurant, and the baby proceeded to cry -- loudly -- throughout the meal.

Most of us have been in a restaurant when a baby is crying nearby or a toddler is being fussy and disruptive. In a Denny's or McDonald's, it's one thing, but in a restaurant that going to cost some serious coin, it's another.

"'Do children belong?' and 'Are they welcome?' are two different things," says Jill Allen, director of public relations for St. John's Restaurant and Alleia Restaurant in Chattanooga. "I think that's up to the parent, for sure. We hope that guests use their best judgment in being mindful of other diners' experience. I think it's important that people take personal responsibility for their children's behavior in public."

The wailing baby incident has been reported on TV and online across the country, sparking both outrage over the parents' behavior and over the restaurant's handling of the situation. Achatz, who has since appeared on "Good Morning America" to discuss the incident, could hear the child from the kitchen but didn't ask the parents to leave since they'd brought the baby because of a last-second cancellation from their babysitter. The parents paid for the meal when they made the reservation, which can't be refunded but can be transferred.

Locally, those in the restaurant business say they've dealt with similar incidents themselves and, in general, don't ask the parents to leave. But they try not to let them sit and disturb the other guests.

At Porter's Steakhouse in the Sheraton Read House, the staff will try to move the crying child so it won't ruin the meals for others, says Dee Richardson, assistant general manager of the hotel and the restaurant.

"[If a baby is crying] we do like to ask if there's anything we can do to make the guest or their child more comfortable and to reduce the volume," she says. "We're normally pretty good about helping them manage the situation, such as offering them to dine in our private dining room to be in a more comfortable setting, but we'll never ask the guest to stop dining. Most restaurants, if they're a restaurant like ours, will have a private dining room that would be suitable."

Richardson says the similar situations have been an issue in her establishment "a handful of times."

"When it has been, we have been very apologetic and offered small concessions to those who complain, such as sending a dessert or a drink," she says.

At St. John's or Alleia, they'll try to move the baby and parents to an empty -- or emptier -- section of the restaurant, and that doesn't just include moments when a child is fussy.

"If we had a certain spot in the restaurant, and it worked better for small children or an infant or a mother's who's nursing, we'd certainly try and put them there," Allen says. "If we have a dining room that was available that wasn't being used, we'd be happy to put them in there so they can enjoy their experience and take care of their child."

But the public appears divided on what should be done in such circumstances.

"Don't bring a child that young to an upscale restaraunt," Ashley Bishop Magourik of Chattanooga writes on the Times Free Press' Facebook page. "Many people who go to a place that expensive may only go once in a lifetime and that experience was ruined for them. Call and explain why you are canceling and see if you can get your money back."

"You have respect for other patrons and stay home," writes Kenneth Gibson, a Ringgold resident now living in Atlanta. "An infant hasn't any place in an establishment such as that."

"Eight months old? It's not like it's a bratty child. It's a baby. Babies cry sometimes," Quincy Caylor, an Ooltewah resident now studying at the Univerity of Tennessee in Knoxville, says on the Facebook page. "Just because you can afford snobby restaurants doesn't mean you get to escape daily life. These people were dealing with it how they could. It didn't ruin anyone's life. It shouldn't be a big deal."

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 757-6205.