Bring the kids: Some Pittsburgh-area high-end restaurants welcome children
Dr. Karl Bowman talks to his wife Melissa as their daughter Emma, 2, reaches for a sweetener packet during lunch at The Porch in Schenley Park.
Melissa Bowman keeps her son Cameron, 4 months, occupied while she has brunch with her husband Karl and their daughter Emma at The Porch at Schenley.
The Porch at Schenley
Share with others:
When The Porch at Schenley opened last year, general manager Mike Damas ordered six highchairs -- a number that he thought would be more than sufficient for a restaurant serving $20 duck legs and $21 smoked pork shank.
Within the first month, however, he was doubling that order.
"I was surprised how many kids came in here," said Mr. Damas. "You don't think a place like this would have that many highchairs, and we still come close to running out sometimes."
Located next to the carousel in Schenley Plaza, across the street from the main Carnegie Library branch and overlooking an expanse of green lawn, The Porch is naturally suited to cater to young children. But even in fancy restaurants in less idyllic locations, youngsters these days are commonplace.
Esteemed restaurants such as Legume in Oakland and Casbah in Shadyside have kids menus, serving up chicken fingers and spaghetti alongside antelope noisette and spinach torchetti.
"We don't want to discourage anyone from coming in just because they have their children with them," said Jennifer Love, general manager at Casbah, which serves high-end Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. "We like to think of ourselves as kid-friendly."
Ms. Love said that she has rarely encountered any problems with loud or overly boisterous children. Rather than seeming annoyed with children in the restaurant, she said, other Casbah diners often comment on the good behavior of the pint-sized patrons.
At McDains Restaurant in Monroeville, however, the experience has been quite the opposite.
There, restaurant owner Mike Vuick received national and international attention a year ago when he banned children under 6 from eating in his restaurant.
He's still receiving daily emails and doing media interviews about the policy -- 96 interviews to date, including one last month from a media outlet in Mexico City -- and he's still thrilled with the results.
"It was a great move," he said. "We're delighted, and so are our patrons."
His restaurant is part of a golf center and features menu items such as a $21.99 reef and beef (broiled petit filet with shrimp or crab cake) and an $18.99 flounder stuffed with crab meat. The vibe is "soft jazz, soft lighting," he said, which doesn't mesh well with the screams of babies.
Increasingly, parents were bringing younger and younger children with them, he said, and "their chief means of communication is crying." Furthermore, he said, he has seen a decline in parenting skills resulting in children unable to control their volume and running wild through his restaurant and golfing facility.
He also found a lack of cooperation from parents when he would ask them to quiet down or remove their children.
"Many customers have left their children at home with a sitter to have a quiet meal, only to have it ruined," he said. "Someone had to do something in the name of civility and common courtesy."
Overall, the new policy has helped -- not hurt -- his business. "We lost a whole lot of customers due to the policy," he said. "We hoped to replace them, and we've done that. Plus business is up."
There was a time -- not that long ago -- when children being unwelcome in fancy restaurants was the rule, not the exception. The change has come about in part because of increased awareness and appreciation of food and because of the cultural preferences of baby boomers and younger parents who include their children in virtually every aspect of their lives.
Trevette Hooper, chef and owner of Legume, can see why some kinds of restaurants might want to create an atmosphere that is exclusively adult.
At Legume, which he co-owns with his wife, Sarah, the restaurant has gone in the other direction entirely. Last week, they hosted one of their quarterly Bring Your Kids to Legume Night, complete with an arts and craft room and a side dish of ants on a log -- celery sticks filled with peanut butter topped with a line of raisins.
Even on a regular night, the restaurant provides bags with stickers and other activities to child diners. It always had a kids menu, but it stopped printing it on the adult menu because adults would occasionally try to order chicken fingers.
While the kids menu is simple -- always chicken fingers and spaghetti, with the occasional pizza or slider -- food is prepared with the same care given to the rest of the menu. The chicken fingers are made from "healthy chickens," said Mr. Hooper, cut by hand and breaded.
He occasionally hears feedback from parents who wish the kids menu was more exotic, but he prefers to keep it simple.
"Rather than be creative with something out of the ordinary, we like to do something that's comforting, just really healthy," he said.
Besides, he said, children often order off the adult menu.
Because Mr. Hooper and his wife rarely eat out themselves, they generally do not bring their three children -- age 6 and under -- to fancy restaurants with them. When they do take them out to eat, they prefer more casual places, such as the Smallman Street Deli and China Star in Squirrel Hill.
At Casbah, so many children come to the popular Sunday brunch that a section of the brunch menu is dedicated to them. Rather than the $24 prix-fixe adult brunch, which includes a cocktail, an appetizer and entree, the kids menu offers just an appetizer and entree for $12. Items on the children's menu are both fancy and kid-friendly, such as polenta with Paul Bunyan maple sugar and cinnamon and house-made whole-grain and mixed-nut granola.
Parents with children often prefer to sit in front of the restaurant on its large outdoor patio, said Ms. Love, which is somewhat louder and roomier than the inside of the restaurant.
She also said that it is not unusual for kids to order off the adult menu -- something that she said she finds rather impressive.
"They'll get their scallops, they'll get their filet," she said. "When I was that age, I was not that adventurous."
At The Porch, which is owned by Eat'n Park, including children aligns with company policy. It helps there that kids have an outlet when they are done eating. It's not unusual for parents to let their children play on the grassy lawn of Schenley Plaza as they linger over their own meals on the patio, Mr. Damas said.
"If the kids like the place to eat, so do the adults," he said. "The kids drive the parents."
First Published August 16, 2012 12:00 am