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NY Times on kids in coffeeshops


kiliki
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I know that the subject of children in restaurants has been discussed to death, but I thought this article, about the efforts of coffeeshop and restaurant owners to deal with out of control kids, was pretty interesting. I found the "who cares" attitudes of most of the parents pretty shocking, and I wonder what's changed since I was a kid. 30 years ago I don't think most parents would have thought to take their kids to coffee shops while they read the paper-to what is this change due? The proliferation of coffeehouses, which now serve as social centers? Different ideas about parenting?

I'm not one of those people that hates to see kids in restaurants-actually, I'm usually very impressed by how well behaved most of the little kids I see are-but I have seen some horrendous behavior in coffeeshops in particular while the parents turn a blind eye, just as described in the article.

NY Times on kids

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That article is kind of a mishmosh of different issues. As far as coffeeshops, I think places like Starbucks have created a problem by adopting an image of the coffee shop as a place to camp out all day. Kids, cell phones, whatever-- people feel like they can behave as if they're in their own home. There's a Starbucks in my area where every time you go in, it's full of the same group of older guys talking loudly across tables. In another neighborhood, it's moms with their kids. I prefer the moms; at least they don't all turn around in concert and stare at you when you come in, like you're intruding on their private social gathering.

I doubt whether that setup is good for moving expensive drinks and snacks so I'm not sure why they do it.

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Courtesy of one of the Chicago moms (no dads, hmmmm...) quoted in the Times piece:

"The looks I would get when I went in there made me so nervous that I would try to buy the food as fast as I could and get out," said Laura Brauer, 40, who has stopped visiting A Taste of Heaven with her two children. "I think that the mothers who allow their kids to run around and scream, that's wrong, but kids scream and there is nothing you can do about it. What are we supposed to do, not enjoy ourselves at a cafe?"

Enjoy yourselves, but not at the expense of others, is what I would say.

Not all children are poorly behaved; those that are (whether chronically or at that moment) do not belong in a cafe or a restaurant where other patrons are paying the same amount to enjoy a relatively peaceful environment in which to sip their coffee and eat their scones. If a child routinely behaves poorly when in restaurants, you probably just shouldn't sit in a coffee shop with them. Go in, get your coffee, and leave.

Yeah, it kinda bites for the parents, who, obviously, are still real people and do deserve to relax with a cuppa joe. But that's the choice they have made, and it's why we have babysitters.* It's also why some places have kids' days. For instance, New York now has Crybaby Matiness for kids and their parents, and the otherwise young-ish coffee shop that I frequent daily has story time twice a week. Sounds like this neighborhood could use some of these things...

I do agree with you, Kiliki, that some of the parents quoted in the article just seem plain clueless; it's people like these that make us single/childless folks wonder what part of being a parent causes you to lose all sense of social responsibility. However, like you, I have noticed that most kids are very well-behaved in restaurants, and am very impressed by that fact.

It seems to me that this piece is an account of a neighborhood going through massive social change, and it's not surprising that it might escalate like this.

Though none of the involved parties means it this way (perhaps), the parents' apparent disregard for the experience and comfort of others is perceived as a judgment of themselves as superior to the other neighborhood dwellers.

Similarly, the parents may be misinterpreting the requests for well-behaved children as critiques of their child-raising abilities rather than as reminders to be courteous to other patrons. Everyone is already on edge and ready to take every little thing as an attack, and you get, well...this.

*ETA: Yes, I know not everyone can afford a babysitter, but it seems to me that people who have enough time on their hands to allow this to become a hot button issue probably can.

Edited by Megan Blocker (log)

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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What bothered me most about the article was this sentence:

When a retail clerk at the bookstore asked a woman to stop breast-feeding last spring, "the neighborhood set him straight real fast," said Mary Ann Smith, the area's alderwoman.

While I personally don't see breast-feeding as a problem... ...don't owners of stores, cafes, and other spaces have the right to set certain ground rules on their own premises without "the neighborhood" getting involved? Since the spokesperson here is the alderwoman --an elected official -- this sounds like it spiraled to a much larger, organized issue beyond new moms exercising their right to boycott a cafe.

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What bothered me most about the article was this sentence:
When a retail clerk at the bookstore asked a woman to stop breast-feeding last spring, "the neighborhood set him straight real fast," said Mary Ann Smith, the area's alderwoman.

While I personally don't see breast-feeding as a problem... ...don't owners of stores, cafes, and other spaces have the right to set certain ground rules on their own premises without "the neighborhood" getting involved? Since the spokesperson here is the alderwoman --an elected official -- this sounds like it spiraled to a much larger, organized issue beyond new moms exercising their right to boycott a cafe.

Well, for breastfeeding in particular, the general rule is if it's a public place that would normally allow a woman and a baby, then breastfeeding is fine. The main point is that breastfeeding is not indecent exposure. So in this case, the woman should be able to breastfeed in a bookstore. If it were, say, a private club or a bar, i.e. a place where a baby wouldn't be allowed anyway, then they can set rules such as no breastfeeding.

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What bothered me most about the article was this sentence:
When a retail clerk at the bookstore asked a woman to stop breast-feeding last spring, "the neighborhood set him straight real fast," said Mary Ann Smith, the area's alderwoman.

While I personally don't see breast-feeding as a problem... ...don't owners of stores, cafes, and other spaces have the right to set certain ground rules on their own premises without "the neighborhood" getting involved? Since the spokesperson here is the alderwoman --an elected official -- this sounds like it spiraled to a much larger, organized issue beyond new moms exercising their right to boycott a cafe.

Well, for breastfeeding in particular, the general rule is if it's a public place that would normally allow a woman and a baby, then breastfeeding is fine. The main point is that breastfeeding is not indecent exposure. So in this case, the woman should be able to breastfeed in a bookstore. If it were, say, a private club or a bar, i.e. a place where a baby wouldn't be allowed anyway, then they can set rules such as no breastfeeding.

I think the more interesting facet of that unlovely exchange was that it took place in Women and Children First, "a feminist bookstore."

Given their website and their stringent storytime regulations, I'm thinking that their devotion to young children is more theoretical than emotional.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Wow, tough issue.

What would I do in a coffee shop owner's shoes? Well, I'd probably provide several blankets for breastfeeding moms, and keep the sign that it is expected that people use their inside voices.

Just like rowdy, rude adults will get ushered out, so will children. I do not see the line on this issue where "kids will be kids". Coffee is not intended as a children's drink, and neither do I see coffee shops intended as kid-friendly zones.

Of course, when I ask parents to remove their children, I would probably do it with a set of to-go cups in my hand so they could enjoy their beverages... outside.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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The breastfeeding thing is funny because, if there's one thing that keeps a kid quiet, it's chowing down on mom.

I continue to think that the kids in restaurants "problem," is overstated -- maybe I'm just lucky -- but I can sure see where a less-structured place like a coffee shop could go to hell quick. There atmosphere is more conducive to wandering around or letting your children wander, and you'd feel comfortable bringing younger kids in, in the first place. The potential for disaster is there. And it says something to me when an owner -- who after all, has to make a balanced decision -- than a customer, who is free to be purely self-centered, makes a complaint.

Also, imagine a place defined by bike couriers, students, gays, artistes and all the other statistically-more-likely-to-be-childless, broke and hip-types who break these neighborhoods in finding "their" coffee shop take over by a gang of stay-at-home moms and their toddlers?

Can you say culture clash?

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Judging from the subject line, I initially thought the article would be about a phenomenon here in my neighborhood where there are two Starbucks roughly two blocks away from one another, one augmented by an independent coffee shop.

Ever since they opened, they became the cool place for Junior High and HS students to hang out, whether or not they were purchasing whipped-cream topped coffee drinks which some of them they do.

They are very loud and well, act like noisy, young teen-agers who use volume to impress and entertain one another. They also monopolize tables for long stretches of time, disrupting the conversations of adults who meet there as well as the thought processes of students and professional writers who have come to view these places as their alternative libraries and offices (another subject there, granted).

One of the Starbucks is across the street from the National Zoo where the only alternatives are a bar that sells hamburgers and the mediocre cafeteria within the zoo proper. Needless to say, many tourists find the Starbucks familiarly comforting, like McDonald's, and certainly a godsend after pushing strollers up and down rolling paved hills in search of the baby panda while keeping an eye on Max. Young, tired kids are to be expected.

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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As one of the childless that likes my coffee shop, I think saying it's a culture clash is a little too easy...I don't care if the place is packed with moms and kids, unless the kids are running around while I'm carrying my hot coffee (happens a lot) or worse, getting into my stuff (this has actually happened as well-kids have either run off with or rummaged through my shoulder bag).

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If you can ask noisy rude people to leave bars, why not coffee shops? I'm confused.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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As one of the childless that likes my coffee shop, I think saying it's a culture clash is a little too easy...I don't care if the place is packed with moms and kids, unless the kids are running around while I'm carrying my hot coffee (happens a lot) or worse, getting into my stuff (this has actually happened as well-kids have either run off with or rummaged through my shoulder bag).

Slightly off-topic, but this reminds me of the time I caught the bouquet at my friend's wedding and the groom's little stepsister (about 8 years old) stole it out of my hands while everyone was still clapping and ran off with it. Her parents did nothing about it - I could not believe the rudeness. :laugh:

Running off with your handbag? TEN TIMES WORSE.

If you can ask noisy rude people to leave bars, why not coffee shops?  I'm confused.

Maybe things will be clearer once actual fistfights between mommies and singles start breaking out. :wink:

Edited by Megan Blocker (log)

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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I think it's important to keep in mind that these articles are written to generate controversy. Before I became a mom (a whole 3 months ago), I was paranoid about taking my child out in public. Articles like these made me convinced that anytime I stepped out, I would get glares from child-free adults. But what I have found is most people, parents and non-parents alike, are reasonable adults. So if I'm out and the baby starts to cry, most people understand that babies cry sometimes and they either ignore it or give me a sympathetic been-there-done-that nod or comment. And on my side, I'm busy trying to comfort my child as quickly and unobtrusively as possible. And, as a reasonable adult, I don't take my baby to five-star restaurants, and, as reasonable adults, so far no one has given me a problem about bringing a baby into a casual restaurant or a coffee shop.

I also wonder where they find these entitled, rigid people, both on the store owner side and the parent side. I belong to a mom and baby group (yes, it's probably made up of "former cheerleaders and beauty queens," to quote the article) and even when it's only us moms, we try as hard as possible to not having our screaming child bother everyone else. I think if we were to come across a store with a sign that was not welcoming of children, we would mention to each other to avoid it, not because we were trying to "win" by organizing a boycott, but because most people don't really want to hang out somewhere they are unwelcome and uncomfortable.

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I think Jujubee's right to point to the author's intentions.

When the phenomenon of coffee shops first migrated from Europe and Seattle, though, I had romantic expectations of sitting in a corner, sipping, reading and writing in relative peace.

I guess I have gotten more tolerant of young children and strollers not just because I live close to a tourist destination, but because I assume they'll be there for a very short stay...if sometimes only to be replaced.

What I am more impatient about is music. I don't understand why we always have to have a soundtrack to our lives. I know of only one manager of such a place who feels the way I do and always turns it off when he works, pleasing the folk who plop down in the plush chairs with their books.

Sometimes I fantasize about my own place where nothing's piped over the crowds. It will have tables lining an inner courtyard, like a monastic cloister, and silence would be encouraged without requiring the swearing of vows or use of sign language. Problem is that the name Silos, pronounced "see-loes" looks a bit too agrarian. But it is inspired by Santo Domingo, Silos, near the bottom of this site.

Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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As one of the childless that likes my coffee shop, I think saying it's a culture clash is a little too easy...

Not implying that that's the whole story but I think, in this case, it's an aggravating circumstance.

Jujubee is right the people in this article on both sides are portrayed (or portray themselves) in a particulalry unflattering light.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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A coffeehouse/cafe up the street from my home in Takoma Park, MD changed hands a few years back. The Sunday morning that I went in to find a new "play area" complete with toys and screaming children was the last morning that they had my business. I'm sure that they do quite nicely with the yuppie set who appreciate the play area for their children and I certainly don't begrudge them their chosen clientele. I just find other places to hang out.

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For screaming children, take off your dogs collar and leash and give them to the parents saying, My dog wanted you to have these as your kids are disturbing him in a loud voice. Worked for me.

Bruce Frigard

Quality control Taster, Château D'Eau Winery

"Free time is the engine of ingenuity, creativity and innovation"

111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321

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You know, I think the wording of that Andersonville sign is unfortunate:

Right past the sign warning the cafe's customers that "children of all ages have to behave and use their indoor voices when coming to A Taste of Heaven,"

By "indoor voices" do they mean the voices most people seem to think are appropriate when talking on cell phone? Plus, telling customers what they "have to" do seems a little presumptuous. I tend to think that when you choose to communicate with your customers by means of signs you need to be very careful. I'm sure there is some room for improvement with this sign.

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I think a more important question is...what's a coffee shop, exactly?

Starbucks?

Diner?

Cafe?

I think we're talking more about a Starbucks-type, coffehouse/cafe environment - one that caters to people there mostly to sit and drink coffee, but may also serve light food. Much more that than a restaurant or diner setting. As someone pointed out above, these environments are more likely to experience these sorts of issues, due to their generally less structured nature (armchairs facing out instead of tables where chairs face in, and so on).

"Coffee shop," to me, connotes more of a diner atmosphere.

You know, I think the wording of that Andersonville sign is unfortunate.

I agree, Tess, it does seem a bit obnoxious. Rather than asking, it's telling. Bound to ruffle anyone's feathers, no?

I think the name of the neighborhood is unfortunate, too. Wasn't Andersonville the name of an infamous Civil War prison? Whoops.

Edited by Megan Blocker (log)

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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Coffee shops and the culture they embrace attract unique slices of society.

1) You have the soloist… The person who comes in for some peace and quiet so they may enjoy their double, breve macchiato along with the NYT in a nice corner seat. Their ultimate goal is to have a small slice of peaceful solitude prior to the start of their hectic day.

2) Then you have your commuter: just dropping in to pick up their double tall to go.. In and out before you can bat an eyelash.

3) The morning health walking groups: usually groups of 1-3 with their full exercise regalia, sitting down with a double tall soy latte and a bran muffin.

4) Two old friends getting together for lonnng chat. One decaf drip and one full caf drip, sharing a plain scone with jam.

5) The mom with two kids (I hate to support this stereotype, but 9 out of ten times it’s the mom with kids, not dear old dad). Grande non-fat, one hot chocolate with whip and one without.

So the question is, why do coffee house kid’s run rampant?

My perception from past experience is that parents with unruly kids (not all parents and kids mind you) used to, prior to having kids, fall into category 1,2,3, or 4 and still wish to enjoy the lifestyle they previously enjoyed. In many ways I see these folks with unruly children as being quite selfish. They are prioritizing their needs and desires ahead of everyone elses, including their children’s. Often, these parents are engaged in conversation and let their children roam free, some times dangerously. Sadly, I think that it’s just the evolution of child rearing. Parents have a much more relaxed attitude on their children’s public behavior. It’s part of our culture and, has sadly, become the norm.

We do have a voice $$ though. We can opt to visit another cafe.

BTW, I am a parent as well and try to be sensitive to other patrons. If my son starts to act up and refuses to calm down, I am out the door OR my wife and I take turns with him outside.

Edited by dougery (log)

"Live every moment as if your hair were on fire" Zen Proverb

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We do have a voice $$ though.  We can opt to visit another cafe.

The issue becomes a bit stickier when one is the proprietor of an establishment traditionally frequented by the first four types you mentioned, though. When the disruption caused by a group whose spending has not yet surpassed that of the group(s) they're bothering, the owner has to decide whether or not to defend his larger group of paying customers.

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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One area I am not too sure of are the legal ramifications (yes I agree, quite sticky) if you do ask a parent with an unruly child to leave. I see your point though, if you have your regular clients who fall into category 1-4 and then in comes the rogue parent/child, the natural reaction is to protect your regular's business.

On the occasions when I ran into this situation, I found that respectfully requesting that the parent controll their children (more customer service oriented verbiage used of course) worked. The vast majority of the time the parents will reign their children in and apologize... I'm sorry to say that there is no helping the minority that will basically tell you to go somewhere south of heck...

"Live every moment as if your hair were on fire" Zen Proverb

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In my neighborhood, all of the larger cafes get taken over by mommy gangs in the afternoon--and I do mean gangs, bunches of them sitting around together in groups. When that happens, it becomes impossible to read or work (which for me is reading) The last time I was at one cafe down the street the mommies actually started to have a singalong. There's one place down the street that's still relatively a safe haven, because it is small and the tables are too close together for strollers.

I wonder if mommies taking kids to cafes is a relatively recent phenomenon. It didn't seem to be so much of a problem before about 4 or 5 years ago, but it may have been a function of where I was. When I was a kid I'd go with my dad to the Dunkin Donuts or the Pewter Pot for coffee (no real cafes in my town then), and we'd sit around and shoot the sh*t with the other regulars, and the youngest people there (other than myself) would be working behind the counter.

"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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I wonder if mommies taking kids to cafes is a relatively recent phenomenon. It didn't seem to be so much of a problem before about 4 or 5 years ago, but it may have been a function of where I was. When I was a kid I'd go with my dad to the Dunkin Donuts or the Pewter Pot for coffee (no real cafes in my town then), and we'd sit around and shoot the sh*t with the other regulars, and the youngest people there (other than myself) would be working behind the counter.

I wouldn't necessarily call it a "problem". The democracy of bars/cafes/restaurants seems to me to dictate that any demographic group capable of generating a good income for the owner and not overtly excluding other groups get to take over the joint. If ten mommies are in the house, the three laptoppers are outvoted. But that's another discussion.

To the other point, there are a lot of neighborhoods that have flipped dramatically in the last 5-10 years, just as the coffee shop thing and the hip urban neighborhood things got trendy. When I lived in DC's U street are ten years ago, there was one (independent) coffee shop and almost no yuppie parents beyond my wife and I. At the same time the Starbucks trend kicked into overdrive, a lot of people who probably wouldn't have considered my neighborhood appropriate for baby-raising in 1990, decided that an old house in Logan was a good investment and moved in. Thus, two phenomena come together to create a third. You know better than me, but I'll wager it's a very similar set of circumstances in Brooklyn.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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