Crying baby puts controversy on restaurant’s menu


Chicago Tribune

You’re out to dinner at an acclaimed restaurant. It cost $470 to reserve a table for two several months ago, and you’re reveling in the elaborate menu when you hear it: A baby crying.

What should or should not happen next remains a fiery debate on Twitter, Facebook and parenting blogs after Grant Achatz, owner of Chicago’s Alinea, shared the real-time example and his own uncertainty on the issue with this provocative Tweet:

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.

Achatz did not ask the parents to leave, noting that the baby’s presence was prompted by a last-minute baby sitter cancellation. But since the Tweet, the situation has prompted discussions on Today, Good Morning America and a popular new Twitter handle, alineababy.

Award-winning chefs and parenting experts have called for both new restaurant policies and more understanding. And parents and non-parents across the country are searching for reasonable guidelines.

Alinea, the 64-seat restaurant with a coveted three-Michelin-star rating and repeated rankings as one of the best in the world, carefully outlines its guidelines on its website. Drinks and gratuity are not included in the $210-$265 prepaid tasting menu. Arrive 15 minutes before your ticket time. Tickets are non-refundable, but transferable to friends, neighbors or anyone who can take your place.

But Alinea lists no rules about children. In an email, co-owner Nick Kokonas said the restaurant has no plans to change its policy.

“We welcome children of all ages who can enjoy the meal — there probably isn’t an age limit,” he said. “And we’ve had babies that have slept right through the dinner happily. However, like all guests, we ask that a level of decorum is followed that at a minimum does not infringe on the ability of other patrons to enjoy their meal at Alinea.”

Reactions to children in public spaces follow a shift in family relationships, suggested Steven Mintz, a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood.

“We live in a pretty age-segregated world, which is different from the past,” he said, noting that kids spend time mostly with other kids, while adults and the elderly also tend to be with their peers. “So we are very sensitive to intrusions.”

Lindsay Pinchuk, a Chicago mother of two and founder and CEO of Bump Club and Beyond, said she usually encourages moms to be adventurous and unapologetic about allowing children to experience the many social opportunities available.

The event company for parents addresses dining out in its monthly New Mom’s Brunch, where expert panelists offer tips. These include going early, taking advantage of known kid-friendly spots or choosing venues that are already noisy.

“There are so many options there, I sometimes think that parents don’t seek them out,” Pinchuk said.

Still, in recent conversations with parents over the Alinea controversy, the response has been overwhelmingly against bringing baby, she said.

“If I am going to go out to any kind of fine-dining experience, I don’t want to go with my children,” Pinchuk said. “I want to relax, have a break and enjoy myself.”

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