Kids and pubs … good or bad combo?
I have just returned from a family holiday to Sri Lanka and, aside from the sea, sun and wildlife, one of the most enjoyable things was eating out most days. I hadn’t expected this to be the case. In fact, I had expected mealtimes to be a nightmare given the unavoidable presence of my two kids … aged 3 and 5 years.
Like most families, we eat out quite often – certainly more frequently than I did as a child. In this respect we are very normal. In 1989 only 10% of people ate out more than once per week, whereas now it is 40%. This is one of the reasons Ortus consider the pub and restaurant market to be underrated in terms of stability. Many people still view eating out as a luxury commodity whereas the evidence points to it being a staple. Indeed, even in the depths of the recession eating-out levels remained pretty steady, although people tended to opt for cheaper places.
The net result is that my kids are pretty well trained. They sit at the table; wait for the colouring pencils; stab each other until the waiter arrives; choose pizza, pasta or sausages from the kids menu; stab each other a few more times until the food arrives (which is usually very quick because they are kids); eat everything apart from vegetables; and then ask for ice-cream. It’s a formula which works. And it’s applied across most “non-posh” UK restaurants … and some posh ones too.
However, Sri Lanka is different. There are no colouring pencils; the kids choose from the normal menu; they have to wait along with everyone else; if they spill things they might get visited by red ants. In short, they have to act a bit like grown-ups. And my kids responded well … they started to act more like grown-ups.
It reminded me of an article I read in September last year in mailonline.com. My colleague Richard Beenstock spends most of the day reading mailonline.com so I expect he had referred me to an article about Kim Kardashian … and this is probably how I came across the work-related article. Either way, the article referred to a report by the Good Pub Guide which suggested that “noisy and naughty children” were ruining pubs.
The article mentioned how the management at the Waterfront at Barton Marina, near Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, had banned children aged under 5 and, despite local threats of a boycott, this had proved a big success. Fiona Stapley, editor of the Good Pub Guide, said that she got more complaints from readers about unruly kids than anything else.
However, the Fiona Stapley also reported how one successful publican had suggested that “if you treat children maturely and not as ‘special cases’ by encouraging them to have small helpings of adult food rather than having a children’s menu thrust at them, and providing free wi-fi so they can sit quietly and chat on social media or play games – then they will respond in kind.’
Indeed, the Horse & Groom at Bourton-on-the-Hill, in the Cotswolds, provides some proof of this. The owners, brothers Tom and Will Greenstock, do not offer a specific children’s menu or high chairs. The chefs will make amendments to dishes to suit young tastes (and they do give colouring pencils) but the idea is to treat kids as grown-ups. Its served them quite well … they won the guide’s Pub of the Year award for 2016.
Therefore, perhaps accommodating kids in pubs will follow the usual pendulum pattern. Until 1994 kids under 14 couldn’t really go into pubs. Now they are treated like royalty. Neither feels quite right. In the end we might find the answer is the treat them like everyone else.