Kids Are Not All Right

September 14, 2012 12:58 pm by

A few days ago, I tried to book a table at China Garden. I was planning a meal with a couple who preferred to bring their four-year-old kid along for our dinner. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that children under the age of ten are not permitted at the restaurant after 7.30pm. Back in the 1980s and ’90s, the restaurant was known for being kid-friendly; they almost always had at least one table every night with a family celebrating their child’s birthday. Now, that’s no longer the case.

It’s not just China Garden. The restaurant scene in Mumbai is split into kid-friendly establishments and those who’d rather that you leave your tykes at home. Among those who welcome parents and children of all ages, and sometimes even provide some form of entertainment for the kids, are such casual dining places as California Pizza Kitchen and Soam, and even a few five-star spots like Frangipani at The Trident. Then there are restaurants that discourage, or even disallow kids under a certain age (generally eight to ten years), either altogether or after a certain time (typically, dinner). The reason is simple: they want their patrons to enjoy a meal without running the risk of having a child bawling and screeching at the next table; their server tripped up by a toddler gone amok; or even dealing with a two-year old waddling up to one of the tables to look longingly at a guest’s chocolate fondant.

“I’ve had some bad experiences,” says Kainaz Contractor, junior food editor at GoodFood India magazine. “Now, if I have kids sitting at the next table, I either change my table or leave the restaurant.” Contractor was previously the manager at Pure, a now-shuttered restaurant at the Taj Land’s End. There, she had to deal with kids running around the lobby and jumping on the tables, while their parents chose to remain either oblivious or indifferent. Quite often, she would have to look after and entertain the kids. “Some parents expect you to find their kids cute,” she says. “They say, ‘Baccha hai!’”

Giovanni Federico, owner and chef of Don Giovanni in Juhu, agrees. “I have no problem with children if they sit at the table and are well-mannered,” he says. “A lasagna comes out of an oven set at 300 degrees Celsius and goes into the dining room. A [badly-behaved] child is not a good thing then. They can cause damage to other people, or themselves.” It’s not just danger to life and property; it’s also about maintaining a certain atmosphere and mood. Says Cedric Klein-Jochem, executive assistant F&B manager at The Oberoi, “There is a potential loss of revenue [at Vetro and Ziya, which don’t allow kids at dinner time] because of the loss of the family crowd. But they are restaurants where we are decanting wine. We also have CEOs of companies meeting here, spending Rs25,000-Rs30,000 per table. I don’t see a baby chair [fitting in] among the tablecloths.” He recommends that families with kids dine at Fenix and Frangipani, the all-day restaurants at The Oberoi and The Trident respectively, where entertainment options for children, such as magicians, are provided during Sunday brunch.

Almost all the restaurateurs I spoke to for this story said that they are not comfortable with the idea of kids around an active bar area. Olive in Bandra allows children above the age of ten at all times, except on bar nights. “We make it clear at the time of reserving the table that kids are not allowed then,” says Ashvin D’Souza, the deputy general manager at the restaurant. “But sometimes it becomes hard to turn them away, so we try and seat them in a private dining room, or in the courtyard away from the bar.” Nachiket Shetye, chef-owner of 36 Oak & Barley, has adopted a similar strategy as well. When the restaurant first opened, kids were allowed until dinner. A week later, weekday dinners became child-friendly, and a section of the restaurant was allotted to families with kids. As the long bar is a central element in the restaurant’s layout, Shetye seats them on the raised area at the other end. “We are not okay with kids being exposed to the drinking culture at such a young age,” he says.

What restaurateurs and other diners find particularly abominable is the practice of bringing maids to take care of the child, but not offering them a seat or a meal and making them hover in the waiting area or outside the restaurant. “They will be waiting somewhere, and the kids will be running between them and the parents,” says Gauri Devidayal, owner of The Table in Colaba. “You can’t blame the child, it’s the parents’ problem. They have to respect where they are having dinner. It is not a McDonald’s.”

Parents, quite naturally, find some of these policies discriminatory. In families where both parents work full-time jobs, for instance, mums and dads have no option but to take their children along for dinner. Often, however, they’d simply like to spend an evening out with their kids, and introduce them to diverse cuisines and experiences at an early age. “If you don’t take kids out, how will they learn to eat and behave in a public place?” says Mumbai-based parenting blog Kids Stop Press founder Mansi Zaveri, who has written about the city’s child-unfriendly restaurants.

Here are my recommendations of establishments that serve good food and don’t mind having kids of all ages around at any time:

Fenix, Frangipani
There are plenty of pastas and pizzas to please children at both restaurants, along with a huge variety of great grown-up food.
The Oberoi, Nariman Point. Tel: 022 6632 6205. The Trident, Nariman Point. Tel: 022 6632 6310.

Indigo Deli
Pancakes, waffles, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, mac and cheese. Who needs a kids’ menu when the regular one has so many great options?
Ground Floor, Pheroze Building, Apollo Bunder, Colaba. Tel: 022 6655 1010. Fatima Villa, 29th Road, Pali Naka, Bandra (West). Tel: 022 2643 8100. First Floor, Palladium Mall, High Street Phoenix, Lower Parel. Tel: 022 4366 6666.

Smoke House Deli
With chairs that can be increased in height for their youngest customers, and quirky artwork on the walls, Smoke House Deli provides an easy setting for mall-drained kids and parents alike.
Unit 9G, Block 3, High Street Phoenix, Lower Parel. Tel: 022 2493 3222.

Two One Two All Day
While the Worli restaurant is more formal, the management has decided to let kids join the party at their soon-to-be-launched all-day second outpost in Santa Cruz.
Savoy Chambers, Ground Floor, next to the Mini Cooper Showroom, near the Santa Cruz Police Chowki, extension of Linking Road, Santa Cruz (West).

Yauatcha, Otto Infinito
Jeetesh Kaprani, vice president of operations at Ka Hospitality, said that children are welcome at both these properties at any time. Kids usually enjoy noodles and dim sum at Yauatcha, and the pizzas and pasta at Otto Infinito.
Raheja Tower, Bandra Kurla Complex. Yauatcha Tel: 022 2644 8888. Otto Infinito Tel: 022 2656 7777.