Saturday 19 September 2015

Suffer the little children

I’m not a huge fan of the Good Pub Guide, but its most recent launch highlighted the issue of children in pubs, something that has long been something of a hobbyhorse of mine. Phil Mellows, on the other hand (whose opinions I generally respect), doesn’t see what the fuss is all about. However, the fact that Good Pub Guide readers consider it their most important issue shows that it is far from being resolved. Clearly, the days of kids being left outside in the car with a packet of crisps and a bottle of pop are long gone, and that in itself is a very dated stereotype. But nowadays the boot seems to be on the other foot, with children being allowed free rein throughout pubs.

But you don’t have to be a child-hater to think that you should be allowed to enjoy a quiet pint, coffee or sandwich without the constant refrain of their happy laughter. One family dining pub I know has a clear delineation down the middle – under-11s are not allowed on one side. That seems to be a sensible model that others should follow. Also, my local pub, which has a strong emphasis on food, has taken the view that children should not be admitted into one of its three rooms. Recently, the Waterfront pub in Burton-on-Trent gained many plaudits on social media, and increased its business, by banning children under five.

Another problem is that, because of the Mumsnet lobby, licensees are extremely reluctant to confront parents over bad behaviour by children, as it will make them seem, er, curmudgeonly, and may lead to them being severely criticised on social media. So plenty of adult customers quietly make the decision to go elsewhere in future. Clearly this is not something that is just going to go away, and remains a serious issue for many pubgoers. Licensees really need to sit down and consider their policy on children, and recognise that a free-for-all is something that increasingly turns potential customers off. Not to ban children entirely, but to create a clear distinction between child-friendly and adult-only areas. As with so many other things, a one size fits all policy is not the way to go.

The late CAMRA stalwart Humphrey Higgins once found himself sitting next to a mother and baby in a pub. The mother said to him “do you mind putting out that cigarette – it’s annoying my baby?” He replied “do you mind shutting up that baby, it’s annoying me?” Needless to say, it was him who ended up being asked to leave...


  1. I was going to do a piece on this whole thing over at STONCH this week but decided to take a break from writing instead.

    As someone with a small child it won't surprise you that I'm rather keen on taking her into a pub so I can have a quick pint. The approach I always take when going somewhere I haven't been before is to ask the bar staff if they mind me bringing a child into the pub. They are almost always shocked that I'm even asking but it's a hangover from my childhood when kids in pubs were much more frowned upon. And secondly I only take her into a pub when she's asleep. She usually has a nap everyday for a couple of hours from about 12:30 onwards. We settle down in a quiet corner, her curled up in her pushchair, me huddled over a book in the corner. If she wakes up early I knock back my drink and we depart.
    When we first moved to the north-west I was out exploring most days and we'd pop into the local 2 or 3 times a week. Now if I head in by myself on a Saturday I regularly get a "have you forgot something?" from the old soaks in the front room.

    The issue isn't really children in pubs, of course, but parents who don't understand their responsibilities if they take their children into one.

    Also I wouldn't put too much stock by the whole GPG thing; I tried to find the data for what I thought was a survey but it appears their evidence was of a much more anecdotal nature. If I remember rightly the press release referenced 3 people(?)

    Actually I think will do a piece on this now...

  2. I can think of very few places I go where children cause any kind of problem; even my local Spoons I can only remember seriously being disturbed by kids once, which puts it on a par with "being chatted up by a drunk" in frequency terms. (She had a child in a buggy, as it happens, but the kid stayed asleep throughout.)

    The one licensed premise I do know where children are a real problem - and by 'children' here I mean 'toddlers' - is the none-more-crafty Font in Chorlton. The problem seems to be that the hipsters are breeding.

  3. Interestingly Phil - Font in Chorlton was where I noticed large groups of adults letting children run around; it was clearly a child's birthday party and McDonalds/Fun Factories don't fit the bill for affluent young parents, hipster or not.

    Children in pubs don't bother me, but I think there is much more running around than there used to be and accidents will happen. Shoddy parenting (and I'm not innocent of that to be fair, though not in pubs).

  4. @Arthur - in two years' time, when she's shouting at the top of her voice, banging toys and running around, things may be different.

    @Phil - we've had this discussion before, and I think it just reflects different patterns of pubgoing. I have to say that for me it's a fairly regular occurrence, whereas I struggle to remember the last time I thought of an adult customer "I just wish he/she would go away and leave me in peace". I have overhead some incredibly boring conversations, though ;-)

    If it wasn't perceived as a widespread problem, the GPG wouldn't have reported it. And of course it's not the children's fault, it's inconsiderate parents and licensees who are afraid to enforce standards of behaviour.

  5. I really resent badly behaved children in pubs. Its usually extremely poor parenting. I don't have a problem with well behaved children in pubs. After 8pm though I am of the opinion there should be a total ban on children in pubs.

  6. I don't mind well-behaved children in suitable pubs, but most pubs are not interesting places for children. It's usually okay if they're having a meal, but parents getting slowly drunk while their children get bored, fractious and noisy are selfish louts - inconsiderate not only to other customers but also to their own children. They should leave as soon as it is clear their children have had enough. This is blindingly obvious stuff.

    One licensee I know decided to ban all children from her pub because they were running around while staff were carrying trays of hot food, but the last straw was when the children were going outside into a busy road, while their parents obliviously drank on. She told me it's not her job to be chasing after other people's children: she had enough on her plate with a pub to run. So responsible parents lost out because of the selfishness of others.

  7. @RedNev - completely agreed. Children have their place in pubs, but shouldn't be allowed free rein in all areas at all time.

    I actually deleted a paragraph about parents taking their children into pubs when their sole intention is drinking, because I thought it was a bit too strong.

    I have no problem with Arthur taking his sleeping baby daughter into the pub while he has a couple of pints, but in many cases this is just rank bad parenting.

    As so often said, unless they are eating, there is absolutely nothing for children in pubs, just as there isn't in betting shops, where they are banned.

  8. Has anyone actually ever argued in favour of children being allowed free rein in all areas of pubs at all time? And never after a walk in the countryside or an afternoon at the beach have I fancied a quick bet and so forced my kids to stand in there with me while I do it - pubs and betting shops serve such different functions as to make the comparison meaningless. Strawman count pretty high here.

  9. I used to take my daughters (now 33 and 26 respectively)to the pub quite regularly when they were young. They loved it. And so did the regulars, to be honest, as they were very confident, personable and articulate young things, and it was in the days when chatting to a young girl didn't get a man instantly labelled as a predatory paedophile (which of course the vast majority of men are emphatically not, despite the prurient scaremongering of the tabloids).

    The deal was, if they behaved themselves, they'd get to stay and have some soft drinks and crisps and 'stay up late!'. If they started to misbehave, we were out and on our way home, pronto.

    I also took them to restaurants regularly (we lived in central London then) and the same rules applied. As a result, they learned early on what was and was not acceptable behaviour in a public setting. By the time they were early teens, I could take them anywhere, confident that they would never let me down.

    So to sum up, I think having kids in pubs is ok, as long as they know how to behave. It certainly allowed my (now ex) wife and I to have a bit of a social life without having to farm out the sprogs.

    However, screaming, out of control children in a pub are an abomination, as I'm sure most will agree. The parents must exercise control, and if they do so, it needn't be a problem.

  10. Great post and absolutely something that needs to be addressed. I have been told to stop smoking an E-cig, in a beer garden by a parent who didn't want it affecting his childs health. Im very much in favour of just having a special area where children cannot go, but I bet its difficult to get a seat away from them!


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