Business up after Monroeville restaurant's new policy banning under-6 crowd
July 17, 2011 4:00 AM
McDains owner Mike Vuick stands at the restaurant on Saturday.
By Mark Roth Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It's hard to know how Mike Vuick's decision to ban children under the age of 6 will affect his restaurant business. But there's no doubt how much it has changed his life.
When the owner of McDains Restaurant in Monroeville sat down to chat around noon Saturday, he was conducting his 60th interview of the week, including three with stations in Australia, one each in Canada and New Zealand, and appearances on CNBC, MSNBC, Fox News and Fox & Friends.
And all because of a decision to no longer seat families with children under age 6 in his restaurant on Broadway Boulevard, right next to the golf driving range he has owned for 22 years.
He swears on a stack of menus that he never expected the publicity surge that followed his announcement.
But he understands it.
"I think it taps into the fact that there has been over the last several years such a decline in civility, from road rage to our behavior in politics."
Making a disgusted expression over the current federal deficit stalemate, he said, "It's like my wife says: 'We need statesmen, and we get politicians.' "
Down at the level of his cozy bar and 96-seat restaurant, though, he said his decision came from four factors that had become increasingly nettlesome over the past two years.
First, more and more families were coming to dinner with infants, "and their primary way of communicating is to cry."
Then, with families who had children ages 2 to 5, "the kids have become increasingly vocal and they don't sit still and I was always worried about them running into our wait staff."
Third, there seemed to be more and more parents "who feel they can go anywhere they want with their kids and do whatever they want," and when he or his staff would say something, their reaction would be "how dare you tell me what to do with my kid?"
Finally, many of his most loyal customers, "the ones who had deliberately left their children at home," were complaining.
The no-children-under-6 policy officially began Saturday. Since he announced it early last week, he said, his business has been up 20 percent, his Friday night crowd was the biggest he had ever had outside Mother's Day, and emails have been running 11-to-1 in his favor.
"What is really fascinating about the email is that those who are in favor are giving these very rational responses and telling us how they would remove their own children at any sign of trouble, but those who are against the policy respond in these monosyllabic rants like 'You jerk.' "
For those who think Mr. Vuick is exaggerating the behavior of families and children, Daniel Shaw would not necessarily agree.
Mr. Shaw is the head of the University of Pittsburgh's psychology department and an expert on families who have trouble disciplining their children.
There are indeed some parents who are oblivious to their children's misbehavior or think it's cute, he said.
But he and his wife, who is also a psychologist, often work with parents who constantly criticize, but whose children don't listen to them anyway.
In those cases, he said, children will sometimes act out even more to get attention from their parents. In working with them, he often tries to train parents to "catch their children being good" and praise them for the behaviors that matter to the parents.
At the same time, he tries to teach parents how to let the little aggravations go (not coming right away for dinner) and save their energy for the bigger ones (hitting each other or throwing tantrums).
One table of customers who had come to McDains after hearing about the policy was Caroline and Lou Bowden of Trafford and their adult daughter, Shelly.
"Actually we're very children-oriented," Caroline Bowden said, "but it was a nice incentive for me to come here, because as much as I like kids, you get tired of the table being sticky and stuff."
Shelly Bowden, who works with families that have parenting problems, said she doesn't even see the issue in terms of misbehavior.
"I think kids are kids, and they should be. Little ones are going to make noises and messes, but when I want to have a break, I just want to be in a quiet place."
For Mike Vuick, it's much better to prevent the situation than have to deal with it after children have become disruptive.
"I'm a keep-it-simple guy," he said. "I'm not the children's parent or grandparent. These families all had ample opportunity over nine years to get their act together and they didn't. I just thought, I'm 64 years old, and I'm not going to deal with it anymore."