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18 April 2014

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Food Fight: suffer the little children?

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food fight autumn 2013_kids in restaurants - illustration_Unknown-2_resized.jpgSuffer the little children? Sally Peck and Viv Groskop go head-to-head over the issue of kids in restaurants.

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On a recent lunch date at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons with my husband and four-month-old son, I enjoyed perfect food and impeccable service; the bellowing of the red-nosed toadie at the next table was far more intrusive in the serene dining room than the happy gurgling of my child.

When we were seated at the table next to his, this man proclaimed: ‘They’re brave to bring such a young baby to such a fine restaurant. If that child screams, it will ruin everyone’s meal.’ Two hours later, the man barked to his wife: ‘What a well-behaved young chap. And look! She’s lost her baby belly already!’ While his verdict on me was positive, his manners were appalling.

Having a child is like having a labrador: the beast’s behaviour is simply a reflection of the adult’s efforts at training its charge. If we want children to take restaurants seriously, and behave like humans rather than animals, we should offer them tasty, thought-provoking grub. I have never seen a ‘children’s menu’ that looked appealing. Dining out is a great chance to try new foods: in recent months, my two-year-old daughter has sampled frogs’ legs at Brasserie Zédel, liverwurst at The Delaunay and snails at a bistro in France.

If a child does throw a tantrum, parents should work quickly to remove the child. But the only way to prevent your progeny from becoming rude diners like the man at Le Manoir is to include them regularly when dining out and show them a good time.

One of the greatest treats in my childhood was dining out at the local Chinese restaurant, where you could watch fish in an aquarium, eat wonderful fried things and get your fortune in a cookie. Eating out then, as now, was a decadent treat, to be savoured and shared as a family.

People who wish to ban children from restaurants are essentially objecting to their presence on the grounds of manners. But a well-exercised and well-rested child who has learned to enjoy mealtimes as social events won’t throw a fit – or food – in a restaurant. He or she will happily join the party.

Sally Peck is a restaurant reviewer and editor of Mother Tongue, The Daily Telegraph’s online parenting hub.

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This is going to make me sound evil and like some kind of person who goes to great lengths to get away from their own children. But we all have some evil in us. And I am sometimes very much the kind of person who wants to get away from their own children.

So the place I least want to see anyone under the age of, ooh, 19 years, is inside a Michelin-starred restaurant, demanding a second Coca-Cola, ketchup to go with their matchstick-cut pommes frites and a lollipop on the way out.

The restaurant scene has changed hugely since I was a child in the 1970s, when it was considered a great gourmet delight to have a toasted teacake at Wimpy once every five years. Now you can take babies, toddlers and children anywhere, and they get fantastic food.

That’s great. In theory. In reality, kids these days are educated to the point of foodie snobbery. By the age of five, any middle-class child worth their fleur de sel is well acquainted with the fruit smoothies at Giraffe, the crema di funghi porcini at Carluccio’s and/or the miso soup at Yo! Sushi.

I am not a total fascist. I wouldn’t want to see children banned from everywhere. Many restaurants are (brilliantly) designed for families, and rightly so. However, there are now so many child-friendly places to eat at that we could do with reasserting our authority. After all, who’s in charge here?

I respect the stance of Bob Bob Ricard in Soho, a palace of grown-up glamour. They have a policy banning anyone under the age of 12. Quite right. A restaurant with ‘Press for Champagne’ buttons is no place for a fidgeting toddler. It’s bad enough for fidgeting adults. I’d like to see more places with the guts to say: ‘Child-Free – and Proud of It’.

Of course it matters that children grow up with a working knowledge not only of great food but also of how to behave in a classy eatery. But that can be learned at Jamie’s over some crispy squid – not at the Negroni Bar at Polpo Smithfield. Reclaim the space, big people! You have nothing to lose. And an awful lot of drinking time to gain.

Viv Groskop is a writer, comedian and mother of three.

This feature was published in the autumn 2013 issue of Square Meal Lifestyle.

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