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Should babies be brought to upscale restaurants?

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I’m sure many of you heard about the controversy created when a couple arrived at Alinea in Chicago with their eight-month-old baby. Alinea is a 3-Michelin star Chicago restaurant where diners must buy tickets north of $200 to secure a reservation. The cost of drinks, gratuity and tax are extra and the tickets are non-refundable.

As the story goes, the couple’s babysitter canceled at the last minute, so they brought their baby with them rather than trash two very expensive dinner tickets. As you might expect, Alinea is a high-end restaurant that serves a multi-course tasting dinner that goes on for hours. Of course, the baby lost its cool as babies do and the crying was less than appreciated by customers.

Acclaimed chef Grant Achatz is a cool cucumber who bit his tongue that night, though he did tweet during service asking whether Alinea should ban babies for the future. @gachatz: Tbl brings 8mo.Old. It cries. Diners mad. Tell ppl no kids? Subject diners 2crying? Ppl take infants 2 plays? Concerts? Hate saying no, but...

A majority of those on Twitter responded in defense of high-end diners who should not have to endure a crying baby in an exclusive upscale restaurant. They tweeted that a baby ban is not unreasonable at such restaurants.

Others tweeted that reasonable people would not take their infants to the theater, a concert or an opera, and a high-end restaurant is no different.

Still, there were those who defended the couple and criticized Alinea’s ticket-based reservation system and no-refund policy.

And others criticized Achatz for airing the issue on social media during dinner service as his paying customers (the couple) sat in the restaurant.

Here’s my take on it, but I’d love to hear your thoughts: Yes, places like Alinea should ban infants and very young children. It makes no sense to have children in this environment. I know plenty of adults who could not endure a long, multi-course dinner in an upscale setting without getting restless. What chance does a baby have?

On the other hand, Alinea did not have a ban in place when the couple and their baby arrived for dinner, so it was in no position to ask the couple to leave. It was in position, however, to wave its no-refund policy, saying to the couple, “We believe you’ll enjoy your meal much more when you can return without your infant.” It’s hard to say whether the couple would have accepted the refund to return at a later date, but the smart play was to preserve the intended atmosphere of the evening for the other diners.

As for Achatz tweeting on the spot, it probably wasn’t the most strategic move he’s ever made. It smacks of poor hospitality or, at the very least, thoughtlessness.

What do you think? Please email me at [email protected].

Michael Sanson, Editor-in-Chief
e-mail: [email protected]
Twitter: @MikeSansonRH

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