Babies and restaurants don’t mix — at least at many places in America where clientele and staff aren't welcoming to children, and where the atmosphere doesn't lent itself to their presence. But when a restaurant is completely empty, and you and your baby are the only customers, who’s there to complain? If a tree falls... right?
Well, guess what? Sometimes whoever owns or runs the restaurant doesn’t want your baby in there—not because they hate the baby, they just hate the mode of transport: the dreaded stroller.
I just had a baby 14 weeks ago, and the easiest way to get her around, along with all her annoying gear, is to roll her. And while it’s sometimes embarrassing (and not something I ever pictured doing, TBH), here I am wheeling around the streets of Manhattan. So be it. It’s easier to push a 12 pounder around rather than carry her through the streets, so here we are. It’s not like the stroller is the size of a car, but that’s how people act sometimes. Especially when you go out to eat with your kid.
After a recent doctor visit on the Upper East Side, I was hungry for a veggie burger, and decided to get an early lunch while the kid was asleep. Most places would be quiet at 11:30 am, and I could eat in peace while she snoozed. She doesn’t scream in restaurants anyway — the kid’s too busy sleeping or looking around. (Also, because she’s a genius who can already read social situations. Kidding, she honks like a goose when she cries.
I wheeled her in in her Bugaboo to the Beach Cafe on Second Avenue, and looked around the dining room to find it completely empty. Not one other customer. I asked an employee working by the bar if I could sit at a cozy table along the wall and order food. “No, no strollers allowed in here,” he told me. This was my first encounter with stroller haters (I am a recovering one) and I was taken aback. “But there’s no one — literally not one person eating right now,” I said.
It was a 92-degree day in the city, and under the sun the sidewalks were already baking, yet he offered to seat me and this tiny baby in direct sunlight at one of their outdoor tables. This is problematic for a number of reasons, including the fact that both my skin and my baby’s skin is so pale and sensitive we really don't belong in direct sunlight. Also, she couldn’t yet wear sunscreen per doctors orders, and it smelled like garbage, as NYC does on a steaming hot day. (Part of the charm.)
I politely refused the outside table, asking again if we could please sit inside in the air-conditioned room, and assured him I would be ordering food. Again, I got a big fat “no.” So I directed the stroller towards the door and wheeled my way out, upset and hungry. And confused. Was this legal?
Apparently, yes. Restaurants have the right to refuse service to people with strollers if they want, citing fire hazards, diners feeling like they don’t have enough space, and servers unable to move around freely. Some restaurants simply hate them.
A manager named Elijah at Beach Cafe insists that’s not the case. Told by phone they apologize and “that should have never happened,” The Feast asked exactly what their policy is on strollers. (And by The Feast — yes, I mean me, the customer, in this case.)
“Our policy is we have certain tables for strollers. It’s tight in the aisles and there have been accidents in the past with strollers. Both servers and busboys have tripped over them,” the manager explained. “Not all parents are conscious of how far their stroller is sticking out. That’s the reason a [no-stroller] policy was originally in place, but now we allow them at certain tables, which some of the employees pushed for. We had had a no stroller policy since the 1960’s but we do allow them now and that shouldn’t have happened. I will speak to my employees and make sure they understand what the policy is.”
So there you have it — it sucks for those of us now on the stroller-pushing side of things: Most places of business can refuse service to anyone for any reason that is not protected by anti-discrinination laws, and this isn't one of them. But, as one law site points out, "if the business cannot accommodate a stroller, then it cannot accommodate a wheelchair, which would be unlawful under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990," so some unwelcoming restaurants might want to change their policy just to avoid a battle they'd have to publicly defend.
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