There’s a restaurant in my neighborhood that has a “no children in the bar side of the restaurant” rule. It is a family-friendly Italian restaurant with arguably the best pizza in town. We had no idea of the policy, though we noticed that one side of the restaurant always had tons of children. After the birth of our first child we discovered why. When we requested our favorite booth, we were immediately shut down: “no children or babies on the bar side of the restaurant.” With our heads hanging, we made our way to the “kids’ side.” Were we mad? No. Did we understand? Absolutely. Did we still get to eat delicious pizza? Yes.
Segregating an eatery based on whether patrons want a quiet meal in the bar and good conversation or whether they have a child who may run around and be noisy seems reasonable, but what happens when a restaurant bans children altogether? That’s what one restaurant in Tampa Bay, Florida did. The owners of Hampton Station recently put up a sign on their door reading “NO CHILDREN” and caused an uproar in their community and across the internet (though their reviewers are largely very supportive of their decision).
The owner of the restaurant, Troy Taylor, says the decision was a result of “a lot of people who couldn’t keep their kids under control.” The restaurant’s patio courtyard is situated on busy Nebraska Avenue and a recent incident where a kid was in danger prompted Taylor to take measures to ensure no one would get hurt and he wouldn’t be liable should someone get hurt in the future. Instead of policing parents and their kids, his solution was to ban children altogether.
This is not the only restaurant to institute a similar prohibition. Caruso’s in Mooresville, North Carolina banned children under the age of 5 citing noise concerns. The tipping point was a young girl with the volume on her iPad turned up high. When asked to turn it down, she refused as did her parents. After implementing this policy, their reservation have increased as a result of either the publicity the changed policy or both. A sushi restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia now asks that patrons leave children under the age of 18 at home in order to “offer a cozy, intimate atmosphere […and] the perfect environment for small groups and couples out on ‘date night.’”
Plenty of businesses do not allow children at all – or at least young children – because the environment is inherently dangerous for young children. For example, gyms have heavy weights that could cause serious bodily harm if misused. Salons have curling irons and hair straighteners that are kept on and very hot and have cords that hang down. Many of these types of businesses prohibit children out of concern for their safety.
Even restaurants can be dangerous locations when children are running around and not seated at their table. Servers with large trays of hot, heavy food or numerous beverages can pose a serious risk to children that aren’t easily visible due to their height, especially if those children are running amok.
There are certainly valid reasons for banning children from all or part of an establishment and plenty of arguments about why such a policy is bad for the neighborhood, but do discrimination laws apply to children?
Businesses are given leeway to set their own rules and have the right to refuse service. However, under federal law (The Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act), business owners are only prohibited from discriminating based on race, religion, national origin, or disability. Age is not a protected class.
In other contexts, there is a prohibition on discrimination based on age, but the Age Discrimination in Employment Act only applies in employment situations and only to those that are 40 and older. It has nothing to do with whether a business owner can prohibit children in his or her establishment.
As such, the answer is “yes, it is completely permissible” for restaurants to ban children of any age unless there is a local ordinance to the contrary. Whether the reason is related to noise, safety, or simply wanting to provide a child-free environment for their patrons, they are within their rights to do so. However, any restaurant implementing such a policy should be warned that the public outcry may hurt their reputation. Then again, maybe it will increase their reservations. For now, restaurant-goers with children will have to go elsewhere or get a babysitter and I will have to sit on the kids’ side of my favorite pizza place if I choose to tote my tot to dinner.
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