www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/dining/bs-fo-restaurant-babies-20140122,0,7148163.story

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Children in restaurants, a delicate dining dance

Parents, other diners and staff struggle to handle disruptive children

By Allison Brickell, For The Baltimore Sun

10:02 AM EST, January 22, 2014

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The owner of exclusive Chicago restaurant Alinea recently sparked a national debate after he wondered on Twitter whether children might need to be banned from his dining room. The tweet came after a couple brought their infant to his establishment and the baby failed — for an extended period — to use an indoor voice.

"I could hear it crying in the kitchen," chef/owner Grant Achatz, told "Good Morning America." "We want people to come and enjoy an experience at Alinea for what it is. But we also have to be cognizant of the other 80 people that came in to experience Alinea that night."

In Baltimore, no restaurants, it seems, have enacted baby bans — but some people wouldn't mind if they did.

"Keep the babies out of nice restaurants," said Jill Smokler, owner of the popular Baltimore-based Scary Mommy blog. "If I've actually showered, gotten dressed and am paying big bucks for a sitter and a nice meal, the last thing I want is to be around children. If you can afford a nice restaurant, you can afford a sitter. If you can't bear to be away from your baby? Stay home. I'll have an extra drink for you."

Will Carson, a 25-year-old Baltimore actor who doesn't have children, also wants the tots to stay home.

"Parents who have kids under 5 years old should lose the privilege of being able to go to nice restaurants until their kids are old enough to not be a nuisance," Carson said. "It doesn't matter how well behaved the child is, it just takes one thing that sets them off and dampens the whole experience."

Carson said that if a restaurant has a dress code, it should have a restriction on kids.

"Why would you risk the enjoyment of the parents and the other adults there by bringing a kid that doesn't care that they're going to a Four Seasons or that doesn't care that you're ordering a $50 filet mignon?" Carson said.

(Neither Pabu nor Wit & Wisdom, both in the Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore, has policies against bringing kids.)

Terri Kellogg, the Hampden mother of a 9-month-old boy and a 4-year-old girl, has had moments in restaurants when she wonders how others feel about her family's presence. She said her son has been going through a stage of knocking things over and throwing food, which has made eating out difficult.

"The last time we were in Food Market, I was more self-conscious and wondering if we were that family that other diners were looking at, wondering why we were there," Kellogg said. "We had to stop and think 'Are we annoying?' I think all parents do that."

But banning kids from restaurants would be discriminatory, said Jennifer Hoyer, the mother of a 2-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter.

"Regardless of their age, they're still patrons," said Hoyer, who lives in Hampden. "If someone is obese or if they have an intellectual disability, [the staff is] not going to ask them to leave. You shouldn't assume what their behavior would be like."

Jerry Pellegrino, chef and co-owner of Waterfront Kitchen in Fells Point, said his restaurant doesn't have a policy about kids, and he thinks children shouldn't be banned from expensive restaurants because he likes seeing families spend time together — "though you have to remember that there are other people in the restaurant, and you don't want to jeopardize their experience," he said.

Waterfront Kitchen's staff determines what to do about problem children on a case-by-case basis; sometimes he'll try to calm distressed kids with cookies or show them the kitchen with the parent's permission.

Pellegrino said disruptive children interrupt other diners' experiences, as do tables of rowdy adults who have had too much to drink.

"There's a line that nobody should cross," he said, "children or adults."

Tony Foreman, president and wine director of the Foreman Wolf restaurant group, sounded a similar note in comparing the behavior of adults and children.

"We have never had any sort of deleterious conduct ruin the experience of our clients from children," Foreman wrote in an email. "Historically that has been more likely by the conduct of adults who are less than gracious to their neighbors."

He also frowned on blanket restrictions.

"We rely on the clients' good taste and judgment in controlling the behavior of their children when dining with us," Foreman wrote. "Different standards seem necessary in our various restaurants and in different situations."

Juggling the needs of a disruptive table with other restaurant patrons is a delicate dance, said John Shields, owner of Gertrude's at the Baltimore useum of Art.

"You don't want to be rude to the parents, who may be struggling with the child, but you have to keep the other guests happy," Shields said. "You might ask a table [that's being disturbed by the noise] if they'd like to be moved, or you try to make light of it and offer them a glass of champagne."

At least one parent pointed out that children have to learn manners sometime.

Katie Mollo of Hagerstown, the mother of three boys ages 2, 9 and 13, said taking her children out to restaurants is a way for her to teach them. Parents shouldn't have to sacrifice the right to eat out, she said.

"It's our job as parents to help our children grow into people, people who have experiences," Mollo said. "They're never going to learn how to behave in those situations if we don't teach them."

Baltimore Sun dining critic Richard Gorelick contributed to this article.