After dinner last night, I would tend to agree with restricting families with young children. BUT, having children myself, I would be very upset if a restaurant refused service based upon the question. I do believe in limiting the time in which a young child can be in a restaurant (no children after 9 or 10), but this seems to be limited to the restaurants turned into bars.
In reality, this is a very hard question to answer.
I think that it is in the best interest of all if a restaurant refuses small children. I have small grandchildren and when we eat out, we make certain that the children are quiet. On the other hand, some parents allow their children to scream, and that is not fair to diners next to them. Perhaps this seems harsh, but I would totally understand a restaurant refusing small children. I would have a problem with small children screaming right next to me. I believe it is best to find a restaurant that is child-oriented. This makes it safe for all involved. If one goes to a restaurant that is for children, one knows what to expect.
A very good point has been made here, that restaurants are private and can make choices about whom they serve. But I do want to point out that there are limits to this freedom, since restaurants are considered a form of public accommodation, and as such, may not decline to serve anyone in a protected class, because of that protected class, such as age, race, disability, national origin, etc. Children do not fall into a protected class for the purposes of dining. One must be over 40 in most jurisdictions to be protected under anti-discrimination statutes. Thus, a restaurant can have a policy to exclude everyone under 39, as a landlord can have a policy to not rent to anyone who is younger than he or she finds desirable.
My kids are now grown and gone, but I am a proponent of the "no young children" rule in restaurants (especially if it is a nicer restaurant with a higher price tag).
When my kids were young, I never brought them nice restaurants, because there was no reason to. If I was there, it was because I wanted a break from being a full time mom, and wanted to feel like an adult for awhile. The people there were also trying to have a nice, relaxing time together and I didn't want to be embarassed by interrupting that for them.
Now that my nice dinners are sometimes interrupted by screaming kids, I am doubly in favor of the no kid rule.
Also, since these restaurants are privately owned and not government-controlled, the management has every right to make a rule like this to cater to their clientele.
As a father of four young children myself, I find it extremely discriminatory that restaurants should behave in this way. I do believe that parents need to be responsible for controlling their children within reasonable limits, and that includes preventing their children from creating unnecessary amounts of noise, but to exclude all parents with young children is just wrong. I certainly would never go to such a restaurant, even when my children were bigger.
Unfortunately, we all have a different tolerance level for noise made by "screaming" children. How loud does talking have to be before it rises to the level of screaming? The same case can be made for the idea of disturbing the other diners, for some patrons would find the smallest actions disturbing. At what age is a child considered an adult in the restaurant world? With that in mind, a restaurant which does not want to cater to families with children is probably better off establishing its rules clearly from the beginning than making judgment calls based on patron complaints (or whatever other standard) every day. There may be a market for such a place, as mentioned; the flip side of that is the loss of a potentially loyal customer from a young age.
Businesses, especially restaurants, make decisions constantly about what works best for them. Perhaps the restaurant in PA was losing business because of the noisy customers who frequent it; it's simply up to the individual business to determine what is most successful for them not only from a financial standpoint but also as it affects their business goals (Does the restaurant want to service primarily stressed-out workers after a long day's work?, etc.).
The problem is that many Americans seem to have a sense of entitlement that seeps into all areas of their lives, including their behavior in public. The attitude is often: "You don't like that my child is screaming at the threshold of pain for you? Too bad, I paid for my meal too." This type of prevalent attitude makes it difficult for businesses that seek to maintain a serene ambiance to do anything else besides ban children. I have witnessed this same attitude in church where nurseries and children's classes are offered free of charge, but instead parents bring their little ones into an hour and a half long service and expect them to sit quietly.
Yes, children must be exposed to formal occasions and learn how to act properly, but many parents have unrealistic expectations for their children in regards to sitting quietly for long periods of time when they're bored, tired, hungry, or all three!
I agree that children learn best by example. I have taken my son out to many restaurants from an early age - and admittedly left a couple in the early days when our dining experience impinged on others. If a restaurant makes this policy clear - that everyone has a right to peaceful dining - then patrons of all persuasions should be required to take heed or leave. That goes for those with noisy children, rowing couples, customers who are rude to staff, excessively drunk patrons etc,etc. A restaurant should have this policy and stick to it as rigidly as the no smoking policy. Smokers don't need to be banned from restaurants, they just need to not smoke. Similarly children should not necessarily be banned from restaurants, as long as they bring their manners with them.
There is another aspect to this that has not been discussed, which is that children can only learn how to behave properly in restaurants by being taken to them. Certainly, this should start out with baby steps, not at the most elegant restaurant in town. When our children were young, we went mostly to family-friendly places where the behavior of children was at least tolerated. But we also took them to very fine restaurants and helped them to see that different places might require different behavior. If people never take their children out at all and then expect them to behave properly when they reach some magical age, I think this is a setup for failure. I do agree, though, with all of the points made about parents being responsible for the behavior of their children. I have picked up my children and carried them out of the best of places, too. That's my job.
All businesses reserve the right not to serve customers...no shirt, no shoes, no service. Even schools can deny service to a student who has a history of violence, disobedience, and insubordination. Thus, the alternative schools were born...a place to shuffle all those whom no one else wants to attempt to teach.
If the family is able to pay for food, and they are dressed appropriately, it is my opinion that the restaurant should serve them. I have been on the other side, though, where I wanted a meal out (saving my sanity by not cooking and cleaning) yet not being able to enjoy the meal for someone else's child running around willy-nilly or throwing food or just being a supreme noise-maker. If this is the case, the family should be embarrassed enough to leave. If not, the restaurant should have the right to ask the family if they would like their meal to go.
I think that you decide what your business is about and set your policies accordingly. If you want to be a family restaurant, you deal with the fact that there are plenty of people these days who don't keep their kids in line. If you want to position yourself as more of a quiet "dining experience" type restaurant, you ban kids.
I understand the idea in Post 3 of not punishing the good parents, but I think it's awfully tough on management to have to decide when to throw a family with loud kids out and when to let them stay. It would probably cause a huge scene and create ill-will unnecessarily. I think that if you want your restaurant to have a quiet atmosphere, you just have a blanket ban on kids.
I believe restaurants should consider making a family leave after attempting to have the children settle down. This is if the kids are extremely disruptive and disturbing the peace. I know that it's not always possible to predict a child's behavior. But parents need to be more stern with their kids in public settings (this includes church, weddings, restaurants, movies, aiplanes etc.) That is the way it was when I was a kid. We all knew to whisper and be extremely quiet in a public setting or we would be in serious trouble.
As for smaller kids, I still believe that parents should be fully responsible for making sure their kids are not too disruptive. If the child is tired, it's hard to keep them quiet, so then they should be at home anyway. I'm a parent, so I understand how difficult it is.
At the same time, many parents do a great job of keeping their little ones quiet so all children should not be banned. That is unfair to those who really are well-behaved. I understand the businesses concerns, but I would not support a business that did not want to serve my child when she has done nothing wrong. And if she were to get loud, I'd be able to get her on the right tract before she disturbed others. If I couldn't get her quiet because she was sick or too tired, I'd leave. I don't think it's a good idea to completely ban all children though.