Should You Become A Child-Free Restaurant?

Nothing kills the mood quite like a screaming child.

A lot of effort goes into crafting a truly memorable dining experience for restaurant-goers. From the ambiance to the dishes served, when a restaurant’s many moving parts are humming along in harmony, it’s nothing short of magic.

That can all come to a shrieking halt (no pun intended) with the unpleasant addition of a toddler sized tantrum.

The average American spends $36 on dinner at a restaurant; for adults who want to enjoy their meal and get their money’s worth and restaurateurs who want to ensure their guests are satisfied with their spend, it’s annoying to have their otherwise peaceful dining experience ruined by unruly kids and their nonchalant parents.

As a result, child-free restaurants have become a popular solution for both restaurant owners and restaurant goers. Before you decide if becoming a child-free restaurant is a good idea for your business – whether that means banning children under a certain age or all children out right – there are many pro’s and con’s to consider.

First things first: what is a child free restaurant? A child-free restaurant is a place where, as the name suggests, small children are not allowed to dine. Some business owners are making it clear that their establishment is an adult-only zone, while others are adopting less-stringent rules and only permit children over a certain age or before a certain hour.

While pro-child-free restaurant owners and goers may be in favor of the rule change, child-free restaurant policies have elicited strong reactions from some patrons who say making a restaurant child-free is discriminatory and unfair to people with children.

If you’ve consistently received complaints from irritated guests who say children are ruining their dining experience, consider the pros and cons of becoming a child-free restaurant. This policy isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth considering if it will make your customers happy and help your business thrive.

The Benefits of Becoming A Child-Free Restaurant

1) Ambience

Let’s face it – savoring the experience of a night out is hard to do when an energetic small children is bouncing on the booth attached to yours, or running by your table while you’re trying to eat.

As a restaurant owner, it can be equally as frustrating to see the ambiance you painstakingly created for guests’ enjoyment ruined. Addressing noise complaints and other issues with the child’s parents can also be difficult, as parents may defensive when you give negative feedback about their child or not proactively try to fix their child’s behavior since it’s their night out (read: off) as well.

By becoming a child-free restaurant, you can sidestep children unknowingly disrupting your restaurant’s ambiance. Guests will be able to enjoy their meal in peace without being disturbed by loud or rambunctious kids.

In addition, you might be able to play different music, hang artwork, purchase higher quality linens and tableware, and fine tune other aspects of your guests dining experience to be more upscale — changes that can’t easily be justified when children are frequently in-house and within arm’s reach of expensive bells and whistles.

2) Attracting New Customers

Just as you could alienate customers by making your restaurant child-free, you could also attract new guests looking for a mature, fine-dining establishment. People who don’t want to be troubled by other people’s children might view your child-free policy as a plus and could choose your establishment over one that welcomes young kids.

For example, Caruso’s, a North Carolina restaurant, saw an increase in reservations after announcing that children under the age of five couldn’t dine at their establishment. Flynn’s Restaurant, located in Australia, instituted a similar child-free restaurant policy and announced their most successful weekend in the restaurant’s history post switch.

By becoming a child-free restaurant, you appeal to guests wanting to avoid the drama small children might introduce to the dining experience simply by establishing an age limit for your restaurant.

3) No Additional Children’s Menu

Creating a list of kid-friendly options can be a pain for chefs, who have carefully curated your restaurant’s menu to reflect their passion for food.

As a child-free restaurant, you have no need for an additional kids menu; this will likely please your chef and help you cut costs. For example, if your children’s menu features dishes that use ingredients not used on your primary menu — think chicken fingers and french fries — by becoming a child-free restaurant, you won’t need to order these ingredients or allot them a budget.

4) Fewer Accidents And Child-Sized Damage

Kids are messy.

Sticky little hands can really do some damage in a short amount of time — it’s kind of impressive. Unfortunately, someone’s going to have to clean up that mess, and it’s likely going to be your restaurant staff.

The time your staff will spend scrubbing their section to look how it did before the toddler tornado passed through is time better spent delighting guests and creating memorable dining experiences. Messes can also be costly, especially if furniture, silverware, or tableware gets damaged.

While most children have been taught the proper way to behave when visiting a restaurant, not all have. Bad behavior is unfortunately not always addressed by these children’s parents as they’re trying to enjoy their night out and may let little discretions slide in the name of having a good time.

As a result, your restaurant staff may find themselves unwillingly taking on the role of “babysitter” for the evening, whether that be trying to keep the kids quiet, waiting on their every beck and call, or trying to stop them from jumping on booths and running around. Although we encourage that you make providing high quality customer service a priority, being a babysitter shouldn’t be amongst your staff’s responsibilities.

Is your restaurant staff tired of cleaning up children’s spilled food? Or, are they constantly worried about little kids running around while they are carrying trays of hot food? If so, making your restaurant child-free might be the right decision. Running a restaurant carries enough risk, and you should reduce it whenever possible.

The Downside of Running a Child-Free Restaurant

1) Losing Families’ Business

By banning children from eating at your restaurant, you will likely lose customers. could lose future sales.

Child care is expensive; absorbing 20 percent of the average American parents household income annually. If parents can’t afford or find a quality babysitter, they won’t be able to spend money at your establishment, whether that means coming in for a meal or ordering online.

Even if they can find someone to watch their child, they may not want to give you their patronage if they’re offended by your age restrictions.

Prior to announcing that your restaurant is child-free, dive into your restaurant reporting and assess whether families make up a significant chunk of your business. If your restaurant is in a family-friendly area or you see the demographic breakdown of your customers to skew toward parents and families, it might not be worth it to implement a no-child policy.

2) Backlash For Excluding Kids

As we all learned in kindergarten, excluding people isn’t cool, especially little kids.  

If you decide to become a child-free restaurant, you should be prepared for possible backlash.

Some restaurants who have decided to go child-free have received criticism in the press, on their social media pages, and on review sites like Yelp and Foursquare. Although some customers may appreciate or tolerate the rule, the shift to becoming child-free may alienate or offend others.

If you anticipate heavy backlash for becoming a child-free restaurant, or are worried about the implications negative attention for advertising a no-children-allowed policy could affect your brand and public image, it may be best to shutter the idea.

3) Diminished Customer Loyalty

If you forbid children from eating at your establishment, you could alienate your existing customers and undo all the hard work, energy, and investments you made in customer retention.  

Consider the family of five that has visited your restaurant for years who have well-behaved, polite children. You’ll lose their business by creating a ban, and likely others like them, though their children were not a part of the problem.

Before announcing this rule, think of your loyal customers. Are many of them families? If so, becoming a child-free restaurant could be a bad move.

Is Becoming Child-Free Restaurant The Right Move For Your Business?

Like people, every restaurant is different and unique. Becoming a child free restaurant is a big decision, so weighing out the potential positives against the potential negatives is imperative to making the right choice for your business.

If you’d like to get your toes wet without becoming fully child free, try having ‘adult only’ evenings, where children aren’t allowed in past a certain hour or on a certain day of the week. This is pretty popular with many restaurant/bars that are popular nightlife destinations, but offer regular meal service to all during the day.