A couple had a reservation at Alinea and their sitter cancelled at the last second and rather than absorb the $500 loss they decided to show up there with their 8-month-old baby. It didn’t work out, the baby cried, other customers were annoyed, chef Grant Achatz tweeted to his follows to ask how he should have handled it:
Tbl brings 8mo.Old. It cries. Diners mad. Tell ppl no kids? Subject diners 2crying? Ppl take infants 2 plays? Concerts? Hate saying no,but..—
Grant Achatz (@Gachatz) January 12, 2014
Then lots of people went ape about it, as is customary.
Emotions about this stuff run very high, for some reason. As for me, I wouldn’t bring a baby to Alinea. Then again, I also wouldn’t think someone who did so was some kind of war criminal.
But what this makes me think about is smoking in restaurants. Yes, younger readers, people used to do this! (And in France, even though it’s illegal, they still do, right? Help me out, French readers.) If a baby’s crying in a classy place, I’d find it annoying, but I would never say it ruined my experience. So I’m kind of rejecting the claim that a top-tier dinner is the same thing as a classical music performance or a play from this point of view. Though see here for further thoughts on the relationship between high-end Chicago dining and the legitimate theatre.
On the other hand, if somebody were smoking at a nearby table? That person is literally mixing a bad-smelling substance into the food I paid $500 for. It’s hard for me not to see that act as inherently more disruptive and dinner-ruining than a wailing baby.
Which is just to say that all these arguments about what rules should be “obvious to any thinking person” are kind of nuts. The rules don’t have justification — they are social norms, which are self-justifying. You shouldn’t bring a baby to Alinea because people, in this country, in this year have come to feel that their $500 buys them the right not to hear a baby. In some places and times, it didn’t buy you the right not to have cigarette smoke in your food. No one, back then, would have complained that the smokers in the room were ruining their special night — right? But now we would. Cigarettes haven’t changed, food hasn’t changed, noses haven’t changed: only the rules we make up for ourselves have changed.
In the comments, feel free to rant about how much you hate smokers, how much you hate breeders, how much you hate non-smokers, how much you hate non-breeders, or what rights you consider yourself to have purchased when you go out for a very expensive meal.