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The Pros and Cons of Becoming a Child-Free Restaurant

Posted by Katie Alteri on 5/7/18 5:00 PM in Restaurant Management, Industry News & Trends

9 minute read Print

child free restaurants

From screaming babies to toddlers spilling food and throwing tantrums (and sometimes silverware), you never know what will happen when parents bring small children to your restaurant.

Although many pint-sized tots are well-behaved and have been taught how to act in a restaurant, there are equally as many who have ruined the experiences of fellow diners who were simply looking for a great meal and a relaxing night out, which is why child-free restaurants are a hotter topic now than they ever have been. 

Children are by and far the cutest guests, but they can also be a burden for staff members to serve and clean up after. In an effort to preserve their restaurant’s quality and ambiance — and the sanity of staff and guests — child-free restaurants are popping up across the country.

What Is A Child-Free Restaurant?

A child-free restaurant is a place where, as the name suggests, small children are not allowed to dine. Some business owners are making it clear that their establishment is an adult-only zone, while others are adopting less-stringent rules and only permit children over a certain age or before a certain hour.

While pro-child-free restaurant owners and goers may be in favor of the rule change, child-free restaurant policies have elicited strong reactions from some patrons who say making a restaurant child-free is discriminatory and unfair to people with children.

The trend has become so pressing that it has been covered nationwide. In the video below, Good Morning America covers the debate sparked by Chicago restaurant Alinea's chef Grant Achatz. 


If you’ve consistently received complaints from irritated guests who say children are ruining their dining experience, consider the pros and cons of becoming a child-free restaurant. This policy isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth considering if it will make your customers happy and help your business thrive.

The Pros of Running a Child-Free Restaurant

1) Improved Ambiance

Let’s face it – nothing kills the mood quite like energetic small children making noise or running by your table while you’re trying to eat and savor the experience of a night out.

The average American spends $36 on dinner at a restaurant; for adults who want to enjoy their meal and get their money’s worth, it’s annoying to have their otherwise peaceful dining experience ruined by unruly kids and their nonchalant parents.

As a restaurant owner, it can be equally as frustrating to see the ambiance you painstakingly created for guests’ enjoyment ruined. Addressing noise complaints and other issues with the child’s parents can also be difficult, as parents may defensive when you give negative feedback about their child or not proactively try to fix their child’s behavior since it’s their night out (read: off) as well.

kids in restaurants

By becoming a child-free restaurant, you can sidestep children unknowingly disrupting your restaurant’s ambiance. Guests will be able to enjoy their meal in peace without being disturbed by loud or rambunctious kids.

In addition, you might be able to play different music, hang artwork, purchase higher quality linens and tableware, and fine tune other aspects of your guests dining experience to be more upscale — changes that can’t easily be justified when children are frequently in-house and within arm’s reach of expensive bells and whistles.

2) Potential for More Sales

Just as you could alienate customers by making your restaurant child-free, you could also attract new guests looking for a mature, fine-dining establishment. People who don’t want to be troubled by other people’s children might view your child-free policy as a plus and could choose your establishment over one that welcomes young kids.

  • A recent Washington Post article revealed that Caruso’s, a North Carolina restaurant, saw an increase in reservations after announcing that children under the age of five couldn’t dine at their establishment.
  • Flynn’s Restaurant, located in Australia, instituted a similar child-free restaurant policy and announced their most successful weekend in the restaurant’s history post switch.

By becoming a child-free restaurant, you appeal to guests wanting to avoid the drama small children might introduce to the dining experience simply by establishing an age limit for your restaurant.

3) No Children’s Menu Needed

menu-engineering

Creating a list of kid-friendly options can be a pain for chefs, who have carefully curated your restaurant’s menu to reflect their passion for food.

As a child-free restaurant, you have no need for an additional kids menu; this will likely please your chef and help you cut costs. For example, if your children’s menu features dishes that use ingredients not used on your primary menu — think chicken fingers and french fries — by becoming a child-free restaurant, you won’t need to order these ingredients or allot them a budget.

4) Less Likely to Have Accidents or Damage

Kids are messy.

Sticky little hands can really do some damage in a short amount of time — it’s kind of impressive. Unfortunately, someone’s going to have to clean up that mess, and it’s likely going to be your restaurant staff.

The time your staff will spend scrubbing their section to look how it did before the toddler tornado passed through is time better spent delighting guests and creating memorable dining experiences. Messes can also be costly, especially if furniture, silverware, or tableware gets damaged.

While most children have been taught the proper way to behave when visiting a restaurant, not all have. Bad behavior is unfortunately not always addressed by these children’s parents as they’re trying to enjoy their night out and may let little discretions slide in the name of having a good time.

As a result, your restaurant staff may find themselves unwillingly taking on the role of “babysitter” for the evening, whether that be trying to keep the kids quiet, waiting on their every beck and call, or trying to stop them from jumping on booths and running around. Although we encourage that you make providing high quality customer service a priority, being a babysitter shouldn’t be amongst your staff's responsibilities.

Is your restaurant staff tired of cleaning up children’s spilled food? Or, are they constantly worried about little kids running around while they are carrying trays of hot food? If so, making your restaurant child-free might be the right decision. Running a restaurant carries enough risk, and you should reduce it whenever possible.

The Cons of Running a child-free Restaurant

1) Loss of Business

By banning children from eating at your restaurant, you will likely lose customers. could lose future sales.

Child care is expensive; absorbing 20% of the average American parents household income annually. If parents can’t afford or find a quality babysitter, they won’t be able to spend money at your establishment, whether that means coming in for a meal or ordering online.

Even if they can find someone to watch their child, they may not want to give you their patronage if they’re offended by your age restrictions.

Prior to announcing that your restaurant is child-free, dive into your restaurant reporting and assess whether families make up a significant chunk of your business. If your restaurant is in a family-friendly area or you see the demographic breakdown of your customers to skew toward parents and families, it might not be worth it to implement a no-child policy.

2) Community and Customer Backlash

As we all learned in kindergarten, excluding people isn’t cool, especially little kids.  

If you decide to become a child-free restaurant, you should be prepared for possible backlash.

Some restaurants who have decided to go child-free have received criticism in the press, on their social media pages, and on review sites like Yelp and Foursquare. Although some customers may appreciate or tolerate the rule, the shift to becoming child-free may alienate or offend others.

If you anticipate heavy backlash for becoming a child-free restaurant, or are worried about the implications negative attention for advertising a no-children-allowed policy could affect your brand and public image, it may be best to shutter the idea.

3) Reduced Customer Loyalty

If you forbid children from eating at your establishment, you could alienate your existing customers and undo all the hard work, energy, and investments you made in customer retention.  

Consider the family of five that has visited your restaurant for years who have well-behaved, polite children. You’ll lose their business by creating a ban, and likely others like them, though their children were not a part of the problem.

Before announcing this rule, think of your loyal customers. Are many of them families? If so, becoming a child-free restaurant could be a bad move. 

Is Becoming A Child-Free Restaurant The Right Move For You?

Every restaurant is different; you should take time to consider this list of pros and cons before making any big decisions around whether to become a child-free restaurant.

Hopefully, after reading this post, you’re able to determine if becoming a child-free restaurant is something you want to pursue.

Find out what your customers really want from restaurants in Toast's Restaurant Tech Report.

form-tech-report-2017

toast restaurant management blog

Written by: Katie Alteri

Katie Alteri is the content marketing coordinator at Fora Financial, a company that provides working capital solutions to small businesses across the U.S.


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