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Children and fine dining, who determines what is appropriate

Brunch, Milk Flight at SugarToad in Naperville
Brunch, Milk Flight at SugarToad in Naperville
Cristine Struble

Recently in Chicago, one of the nation's best restaurants was brought into a huge debate, children at fine dining restaurants. A couple took their eight month old daughter to the restaurant, Alinea. This three-star Michelin restaurant requires guests to purchase non-refundable tickets months in advance (tickets range from $210-$265, plus drinks, tax and gratuity). Due to an unforeseen conflict, the couple did not have a babysitter and brought their child to their dinner. The debate has surfaced when is it appropriate to bring a child to a fine dining restaurant.

Personally, I think that people should look beyond the age of the guest and look at the behavior of the guests. The question should be was a fining dining meal disturbed due to a certain behavior. Any guest, regardless of age, should hold some sense of decorum and respect towards other patrons. For example, would patrons be as upset if a guest was loudly talking during the multi-course meal? What if a large table was rudely interrupting other guests? Would the behavior have sparked a media firestorm?

Bringing children to upscale or fine dining restaurants can be controversial. Again, I do not believe the age of a guest should be the determining factor. Personally, I have brought and will continue to bring my children to several well known and highly rated Chicago restaurants. I expect them to sit quietly, act politely and respect all the other guests. If these rules cannot be followed, we would leave. I would expect the same courtesy from my fellow patrons, regardless of age.

Since I have a love of food and cooking, exposing my children to a variety of restaurants is important to me. When I take my children to an establishment where they haven't eaten, we have one rule, you must try something new and it cannot be dessert. I do not ask for a children's menu or special accommodations.

Usually, I have surveyed the restaurant's menu and will be able to find options that the kids would eat. For example, my children like pork and bacon. Maybe the kids haven't had a braised pork belly, but the flavors to the foods they enjoy are similar. In turn, they can try a new dish and talk about what tastes, textures and flavors they experienced. They can even say that they don't like a particular dish, but they have to explain why. A simple, I don't like it doesn't doesn't work at our table. The idea is to be able to talk and express themselves.

Making the choice to expose my children to a variety of restaurants may have made a big dent in my dining budget but it has opened their eyes to eating and enjoying more foods. Vegetables and fruits aren't the enemy and chicken nuggets aren't the only sustenance. I enjoy that I can have a conversation with a seven and nine year old about saffron and why it's called red gold. Food and a well prepared meal can spark a quest of knowledge that goes beyond the table.

So where does that leave the Alinea Baby controversy? It is debate that will continue for years to come. While I must respect others choices, I hope that other patrons will respect mine. Next time I bring my children into a restaurant, please withhold your judgment till the meal is concluded. They might be better behaved than the older gentleman to your right.

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