Pennsylvania Restaurant Bans Children; Isn’t That Illegal?


Sorry, little guy. You'll have to get your crab cakes someplace else.

Restaurant owner Mike Vuick is fed up. He’s sick and tired of loud clients, the kind that have “many, many times disturbed other customers,” the kind who can be unruly, messy, and frustrating. So, in an effort to keep his eatery quiet and civil, he’s taking matters into his own hands.

By banning children under six.

McDain’s, a restaurant near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, emailed its customers recently and informed them that starting July 16th, their new policy is “no babies allowed.”

“Beginning July 16, 2011, McDain’s Restaurant will no longer admit children under six years of age. We feel that McDain’s is not a place for young children. Their volume can’t be controlled.”

His restaurant, a cozy, 40-seat affair attached to a golf course, is casual and quiet. Much of his clientele is elderly. Vuick says conversations with those older patrons prompted the change in policy, a policy he insists is less about the kids than their parents.

“Parents have gradually diminished their cooperation,” he said. “[Small babies] can’t be quiet and really they can’t be expected to.”

And while that’s a fair point, it forced us to wonder: is this actually legal? Can a restaurateur – or any business owner for that matter – just ban entire groups of people from their shop?

The answer: it depends.

Federal law prohibits discrimination against customers on racial or religious grounds, but there’s no provision against banning children. Note that this has nothing to do with hiring practices: business cannot discriminate on the basis of national origin, race, religion, color, sex, disability, or familial status.

Notably, McDain’s isn’t the first restaurant to bar unruly kids. Olde Salty’s in North Carolina has a sign posted which reads “Screaming Children Will NOT Be Tolerated!” and the policy has “brought in more customers than it has ever kept away.” Airlines had booted families with tantrum throwing toddlers back to the boarding gate and large carriers like Virgin Atlantic and British Airways have reportedly considered child-free zones, akin to the non-smoking sections of yore. Malaysia Airlines keeps infants out of first-class as a rule.

And it’s not just children, of course, that can be barred entry from a business. You’ve probably seen those signs reading “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” They mean what they say. As long as a business isn’t barring entry because of a patron’s religion or race, they’re within the boundaries of the law.

You’ll notice “gender” is not among the protected groups. You read right. In fact, some businesses craft a whole identity out of it. Take “Curves,” for example, a fitness chain that does not admit men. It’s “no makeup, no mirrors, no men” policy set it apart from other gyms and the strategy worked exceedingly well: in under ten years, Curves opened a staggering 7,000 locations.

Of course, prohibiting men cuts your customer base in half. Keeping kids outside likewise reduces your clientele. And while some may believe that policies like these are inherently discriminatory, legally, that only holds water if the prohibition is based on religious or racial grounds. The Americans with Disabilities Act – a federal law – also demands businesses keep their doors open to the disabled and their service animals. But people with a Y chromosome or a baby in tow? They can go get the “no shoes, no shirt” treatment.

Meaning, of course, “No service.”

Posted in: Law, Society
  • Barb

    They did it to the smokers and got away with it next it’s kids, they will again get away with it and what’s next no elderly or handicap or brown hair or blue eyes or christians or what ever someone decides they don’t agree with. everyone thought this was a free country!