Christine Park

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

No Kids Allowed

Old Fisherman's Grotto is located on Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey

You can't miss it. The bright yellow paint, the black and white striped awning, and the ever-present call of the man hawking clam chowder. On a recent work trip to Monterey, my photographer Richard and I followed our stomachs and our noses to the Old Fisherman's Grotto. Once we arrived, he pointed out this sign, posted just under the menu, and since he knows I'm a mom, asked me if I was offended. I laughed, saying no, even though it seems a bit harsh, I absolutely agreed.

Families are crying foul over this sign, saying they're offended and upset

Easy for me to say, right? I wasn't with my kids. But that's the thing, when I'm not with them, I'd like to enjoy fine dining without having to tend to my kids or try to tune out others' little ones. Tantrums, fighting, food on the floor, if I wanted that, I would have had dinner at home! I figure, patrons shelling out big bucks and restaurant owners catering to those patrons have every right to have a kid-free zone. I remember when my hubby and I, desperate for a nice steak, ventured to Fleming's with our children in tow. My son, who was a toddler at the time, thought it was a fun game to throw his fork on the ground. The gracious staff was quick to pick it up and replace it with a clean one. They even brought out a tasty little plate with finger foods on it to distract him. But after the fifth or so fork on the ground, I was mortified and my hubby had to take him to the restroom for a stern talk and a time out. Never again! We vowed to hold off on fine dining until the kids were a little older and they could learn to behave themselves.

Back at the Old Fisherman's Grotto, Richard and I enjoyed a fantastic meal. The service was attentive and speedy, and the food was VERY good. And even though we didn't say much because we were stuffing our faces, the nice thing was, it was quiet and intimate enough to have a conversation. No crying babies or unruly children in sight. We joked about the sign again on the way out, how it must be working.

Little did we know the local media and some parenting blogs would pick up the story, after some families complained about the sign. Customer Niki Riviere says she was turned away from the restaurant because she couldn't get a high-chair for her 6-month-old child. She told a Salinas TV station: "I'm completely shocked because I never had that happen. Usually they cater, at least have a high chair for the child, but it seemed like they didn't want any child. They said the child can't make any noises so they turned us away." I actually have a problem with the part of Niki's statement where she says, "Usually they cater." It's the same sense of entitlement many of us have developed when we are visiting a business. Obviously customer service is key in making your patrons happy and get them to keep coming back. But guess what? Your needs and desires don't automatically supersede others'. So if the fact that you have little ones means you can't eat at this particular place for a few years, it's being courteous, it's not discrimination. And in the meantime, as your kids get older, make sure to teach them manners, like sitting still, eating with utensils, and using their inside voice, so that when you do take them out, they know how to behave.

Meantime, the owner, Chris Shake has been completely unapologetic, saying if customers don't like the rules, they can go somewhere else for dinner. Obviously Shake doesn't care too much about being polite. Some have suggested it's the sign's tone and wording that is more offensive than the actual adults-only policy. I wonder, if any families that get past the sign, have actually been asked to leave mid-meal because their kids weren't behaving? Shake could probably use a few lessons on how to deal with young families, since they are a huge demographic among the tourists in Monterey. But he says he doesn't need to, because business has been great despite his no kids policy. What do you think?

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