Children and dining—an ageless question | Bleader

Children and dining—an ageless question

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Jonathan Swift*
The question raised by the great Alinea debate—do little children belong in any restaurant that doesn't serve food on plastic trays or send a clown around the tables twisting balloons into animals?—is not a new one.

Alinea is a three-star restaurant, by many accounts one of the finest in the world. But an establishment doesn't have to be so tony to see fists shaken at the presence of whining toddlers. Back in 2005 the arena for the same hotheaded debate raged over A Taste of Heaven, a cafe and bakery in Andersonville. The proprietor posted a sign on the door that said "Children of all ages have to behave and use their indoor voices when they come to A Taste of Heaven," the response was both applause and indignation, and the New York Times's Chicago correspondent ran a story on what she called "another skirmish between the childless and the child-centered."

The story went viral.

When I interviewed the proprietor, Dan McCauley, he fixed the blame. "It's these younger, wealthy moms who don't think they should be held accountable, especially by someone they consider the help," he told me.

Alinea's Grant Achatz told me roughly the same thing. There have been other crying babies at Alinea, he said; the problem with this one was that the four adults at the table refused to do anything about it. "It almost felt like it was people projecting this entitlement. Like 'We're here, we can do whatever we want, we paid for it,' without any concern for the people around them."

I don't live near Taste of Heaven, but I frequently have breakfast Sunday mornings at a similar place, Julius Meinl in Lakeview. For what it's worth, parents routinely come in with their toddlers and infants, and I've never seen any of these children cause a bother. My theory is—or was—that even the youngest children have a sense of where they're welcome, and they act accordingly.

But now and then I've complimented a Julius Meinl server on how well behaved the children are—and invariably they've rolled their eyes. Dream on, they say.

* Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal"

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