July 13, 2011 -- It hasn't been a banner year for the under-6 set.
Starting July 16, McDain's, a Pittsburgh-area restaurant, will ban children under the age of 6 from its dining area. Restaurant owner Mike Vuick said the policy came in response to complaints he'd received from older customers about kids causing a ruckus. In an email to his clientele, Vuick wrote, "We feel that McDain's is a not a place for young children … and many, many times they have disturbed other customers."
A few weeks ago, Malaysia Airlines announced that it would ban infants from flying in the first-class cabin because other passengers had complained about squalling babies. And last February it was rumored that Virgin Atlantic and British Airways had been pressured to consider child-free zones and even child-free planes to appease business travelers who, according to a travel survey, listed unruly children as their No. 1 travel-related complaint.
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So, just when did our precious "pets" become everyone else's pet peeves? Are these bans even legal? Apparently yes. Federal law forbids discrimination on racial or religious grounds, but there is no blanket protection for children. For business owners like Vuick that means they can set the rules.
For his part, Vuick said it's all about keeping his customers happy – the older ones anyway. McDain's is a small restaurant that seats 40 people. It's nestled on a golf course, so it's natural that the casual eatery caters to an older clientele. Vuick said, "We have had lots of older people complaining, and the parents refuse to do anything about their kids' behavior. They just ignore it."
Unruly behavior is exactly what recently infuriated Kristen Johnston of 3rd Rock from the Sun fame. According to the website TMZ, Johnston stalked off an L.A.-bound flight because Nadya Suleman (Octomom) could not or would not control her kids who were acting up in business class.
Christopher Elliott a consumer advocate and author of the syndicated Travel Troubleshooter column, said that although the "kids or no kids" debate on airplanes has been around forever, something has changed. "The way airlines feel about kids has changed. Air travel has gone from being an experience to [something] commoditized. A seat is a seat is a seat. … By and large you're just self-loading cargo, and that includes your children," said Elliott.
In a tough economic climate airlines – like restaurant owners – want to cater to their best clients, which happen to be business travelers, not babies. "The case for getting rid of kids in first class is actually fairly solid. … When you're dealing with lie-flat seats and Champagne, a child is not going to fully appreciate that anyway," said Elliott. But the father of three adds, "I think how a society treats its children is important, and getting rid of kids entirely is a whole different discussion."
Certainly the Pittsburgh-restaurant owner's decision to ban kids has caused a stir online. Moms have been weighing in on various mommy blogs expressing their outrage and insisting that Mike Vuick will likely rue the day he closed his doors to kids. "If said restaurant can afford the loss in money, then go for it. I don't care to go where I'm not welcomed," wrote one commenter on CafeMom.
Perhaps McDain's is taking a page the case of Old Salty's in North Carolina. Last year, the seaside restaurant posted a sign in its front window that read "No screaming children allowed." And shortly thereafter, there was a storm of negative media coverage. So, how's business these days? According to the daytime manager, business has actually increased. "People know they can come in and enjoy their dinners quietly. They always comment on the sign and take pictures and tell us "I love your sign." The only ones who seem to get upset are the ones who don't control their children."