It’s been a few days since a casual-dining restaurant in little Monroeville, Pa. imposed a ban on children under 6 and now, reviews are in. If the Michelin Guide or Zagat’s offered a rating on popular support, it would have to consider McDains Restaurant.
The child ban at McDains has received an inordinate amount of attention, as fans across the nation heralded the cranky 64-year-old owner as a hero for standing up to the current culture of selfish parents. E-mails to the owner are apparently running 11-to-1 in favor.
Mike Vuick told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this week that he decided to issue his ban after he’d endured too many complaints from customers and too many oblivious parents. Increasingly, he said, he’d had to cater to parents “who feel they can go anywhere they want with their kids and do whatever they want.”
He said he was unprepared for the media frenzy that has followed. News of his action whipped around media outlets and online. Vuick speculated that he had tapped into a general disgust with a decline in civility. Specifically, a decline in parental civility.
The implication from Vuick and his supporters has been that this generation of parents is somehow more self- and kid-centered than previous generations. He told Pittsburgh’s WTAE that many parents believe, “you know, their child — maybe as it should be — is the center of their universe. But they don’t realize it’s not the center of the universe.”
My colleague Annys Shin wrote about similar attitudes here in D.C. last year as more families with young children have elbowed their way into city life.
That story focused on how hipster establishments in the city were opening their doors to kids, allowing their parents, perhaps, to imagine themselves to be as cool as their pre-parent-selves.(It’s a tendency skewered brilliantly in Toyota Sienna’s recent “Swagger Wagon” television ad.)
McDains is neither a haven of cool nor of upscale cuisine. Its Web site features images of a wood-and-Ficus-tree decor and its menu offers nachos and onion rings. It’s the middle-of the-road place where retirees, singles, couples and families might mingle. Which is precisely why it may have needed the ban.
Most of us who have tried the hipster baby happy hours soon give up on the fantasy that we are, or ever were, cool when the baby becomes an unruly toddler. Upscale restaurants, for their part, have long imposed an unspoken ban on children with their delicate decorum, high prices and tuna napoleon appetizers.
It’s the uncool, affordable restaurants where we parents tend to gamble. We hope that experiencing the luxury of someone else cooking food our kids will eat and cleaning up after them will be worth the financial and emotional toll. But do those calculations always consider other patrons?
McDains’ other patrons, at least, think not. The Post-Gazette reported Wednesday that since Vuick sent out his e-mail to customers — “We feel that McDain’s is not a place for young children. Their volume can’t be controlled and many, many times, they have disturbed other customers.” — his business has shot up 20 percent.
What do you think? Are bans on children necessary? Justified?