|A woman pushes a stroller away from a cafe after being asked to leave. More restaurants and cafes are refusing patrons with children for etiquette and safety reasons. / Korea Times file|
Restaurants' ban on children stirs pro-and-con debate
By Baek Byung-yeul, Kwon Ji-youn
A local court recently ruled that two restaurants should pay 10 million won and 47 million won to two children, respectively, who were scalded while dining. One child ran into a restaurant employee carrying hot water and another was burned by charcoal fire.
Once the verdict was announced, some restaurant owners started to refuse customers with children as they didn't want to be held responsible for any accidents their child could cause. This issue has emerged as a hotbed for online debate ever since.
Korea isn't the first to join the movement. In two U.S. states, Texas and Pennsylvania, restaurants have banned kids, while cafes in Berlin have created child-free zones for their patrons. Some have even barred strollers, which are considered safety hazards in densely populated areas such as malls or restaurants.
Even some airlines are following suit. Malaysia Air banned children under two from flying first class, while AsiaAir created a "quiet zone" for fliers above the age of 12.
Restaurant owners blame children for reckless behaviors in a potentially dangerous environment involving fire and other cooking equipment, as well as disturbing other patrons' dining experience.
The question is this: Do parents have the right to bring their children to cafes and restaurants, where they are at risk of getting burned, where they may be bothersome to fellow patrons? Or do restaurants have the right to refuse patrons with children for safety and etiquette reasons?
Many parents with children protested, saying that this is a violation of equal rights.
Choi Jung-soon, who raised two children, aged six and eight, said this is a clear example of an equal rights violation.
"My kids have the right to enter any cafe or restaurant," the 33-year-old Seoulite said.
|A sign posted on the door of a restaurant located in Seongnam City, Gyeonggi Province, bars children who are elementary-school age or younger. |
/ Korea Times
"People who say parents bringing their toddlers to restaurants do not discipline children inside and let their kids run loose, but this is completely wrong.
"I definitely do try to pay attention to my kids, making sure they don't go on a rampage inside a restaurant, but they should understand that kids aren't able to completely control themselves," she said.
Heo Eun-mi, a 32-year-old mom, hadn't heard about the movement to ban kids until recently.
"When I heard that a group of restaurants were banning kids, I thought to myself, ‘no way,' because my kid loves to eat out" she said. "Before such a policy takes effect across the city, restaurants should designate child-friendly zones, where families with children can dine free from the glares of childless patrons and the narrow confines of a restaurant."
She stressed that this should be the first step restaurant owners take before implementing a ‘no kids' policy.
"Then, at least they've made an effort to satisfy all customers. We're customers, too," she said. "If that still didn't work, then sure, ban kids. Also, where else will kids learn proper restaurant etiquette?"
She emphasized that with a little caution, restaurant owners and parents will definitely be able to find a way to coexist.
"I think the responsibility falls with both parties. Parents should be a little more attentive, and restaurant employees should be a little more careful," she said. "That's as simple as it gets."
Another mother, with a seven-year-old daughter, said she had to order take-out at a coffee shop because her daughter wasn't allowed in, but she didn't mind.
"When I saw the news, the first thought that came to my mind was, ‘aren't the parents responsible for the safety of their children?'" she said on condition of anonymity. "How are restaurant owners supposed to control children while working?"
Jeong Soon-ok, a college student, does admit that her experience at a restaurant in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul, wasn't all that enjoyable because of a child who walked from table to table stealing peoples' salt and pepper shakers.
"At first it was cute, but when the meals were served, we needed the salt shaker. So we took it from him and he just fell on his bottom and started screaming," she said. "The mother then came and started telling us off for forcibly taking the child's ‘toy' away. I didn't know what to say in response."
Jeong recalled another incident in where a child slipped while running in a dining room.
"I remember the mother started yelling at the employees for wiping the floor down with a wet mop," she said. "I thought to myself, ‘should they have used a dry mop?'"
Ryu Seung-min, who runs a Korean-style barbeque restaurant in Seoul, agrees with ban, adding that "parents sometimes just cannot control their children."
"I don't implement that kind of policy in my restaurant as my customers are mostly office workers, but I definitely agree with the food establishments that do ban kids," said the restaurant owner.
"I think parents who bring their children to restaurants and don't pay attention to them seem to not understand how dangerous this place actually is. They should know that we are dealing with hot food that could burn someone if dropped.
"In addition, parents who don't even try to control their careless kids are unaware they are disturbing those around them. They may have gotten used to their loud kids but this doesn't apply to the customers around them," he said.
Ryu also pointed out the necessity of campaigns urging parents to better observe public etiquette while in restaurants.
"I guess we need to find common ground between owners and parents. I think educating parents the virtue of paying more attention to their kids while dining is a good, first step," he said.
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRC) states that it is illegal for a business to ban children from entering restaurants, adding that it is against the rights of equality.
However, this presents a catch-22. If restaurants ban children, then these establishments are breaking the existing laws. But if a restaurant has put forth clear grounds as to why it restricts access to kids, then there is no way to impose sanctions on the offending restaurant.
To illustrate this point, NHRC dismissed a case in 2010 filed by an anonymous informant that a restaurant implements a "no kids" policy in their judgment that the restaurant had clear reason to do so.
"As long as we, restaurant owners, are responsible for any accidents involving children, it is crystal-clear that more and more restaurants and cafes will adopt the ‘no kids' policy," Ryu added.