Even though we all know that discrimination continues to exist in our economy, economists often say that discriminatory actions will lead to market opportunities for competitors, as those competitors hire qualified workers who are eliminated from the hiring pool based on factors unrelated to productivity. The same would apply to firms that refuse to sell products to whole groups of people, as such preferences are “purchased” at the high price of lost revenue.
I thought of this recently as I stumbled upon an article  about a restaurant in Pennsylvania that this weekend begins to exclude children who are under the age of 6. Some said that this amounts to discrimination against families with small children. They are doing this because they feel that many patrons are bothered by the noise and activity arising from sharing dining space with young children. Comments on the move ranged from pointing out that many adults can be rude to noting that it would cost the restaurant, which never pretended to cater to families with children, revenue.
I paused at this article because I believe that dining out with my daughter is one of the best ways we spend time together as a family. It is something we have done since she was a baby, and allows us time to relax together and enjoy each other’s company without anyone having to assume the role of cook. I recalled my own history of dining out with her, and how it changed over the years, and admit that there were points in her life when she would not have been the best person with which to share a dining room. Still, I am grateful that no one barred us from their eating establishment based on her age.
When she was a baby, dining out was simple, as we just put her in a car carrier seat on the table, while my husband and I dined together. She would often sit in her carrier and look around at the other customers and we noticed that she had a particular fondness for whirling ceiling fans. Other patrons often saw her and came over to greet her, which made the experience all the better.
As she grew older, we were able to strap her into a high chair, where we were sure she would stay seated. The most difficult times came when she was too big for a high chair, but before she had gained control over her body and would still like to squirm and fuss and try to get up from her chair. Now that she is a “big girl”, we are back to being able to dine out almost anywhere. Anywhere that we can afford, that is.
Indeed, there is one restaurant that is central to our life as a family, which we go to often and have done so since she was an infant. It reminds me of the television bar “Cheers” from the 1980s, as many of the regular patrons know each other, and the staff know us all, often by name, and sometimes by our usual order. Even as a small child, people would come up to my daughter and greet her by name, saying “hi”, and so we began to call it “the “hi” place.” We still make a family tradition of going there on a regular basis. I would hate to think of such a restaurant excluding children from its clientele.
Many restaurants give children paper place mats and crayons to use as they wait for their meals, and we find these lead to pleasant memories. While she likes to color, she also likes to turn the placemat over and draw her own picture. I often find myself packing the used crayons they give us into my purse on the way out. One day last semester I needed to sign a form for a student after class. I reached into my purse, but instead of finding a pen, pulled out a pile of crayons. Luckily, the student had a pen to share!
Now that she is older, the chance to write on paper provides more opportunities to interact with the girl she has become. I have to stop myself from making her practice math facts as we wait for our food, but she was proud to show us her newfound skills in cursive when she first learned it. She is a wiz at tic-tac-toe, and I have to laugh at the way she can beat my husband and me so easily. After playing several games, the score is often something like “terminal degrees- 0, grammar school- 6.”
As I am no expert in getting children to behave in a restaurant, and it took time and the maturation process to make this happen in my own family, I am wondering if anyone has any suggestions for other parents who want to be able to dine out, but want to make sure their children behave appropriately. And, do you agree with those who claim that barring children is “discrimination”?