News

Chef Grant Achatz starts Twitter debate: Should babies be banned from high-end restaurants?

Jan. 13, 2014 at 3:46 PM ET

Video: Chef Grant Achatz sparked an online discussion when he tweeted about a crying 8-month-old in his upscale restaurant, with many agreeing with his stance that babies and toddlers should be banned from ritzy eateries.

If you’re a parent of an infant, the thought has crossed your mind: Babies sleep so much at this age—we could sneak in a dinner out on the town with him/her on our laps, right?

That’s probably what one couple was thinking Saturday night, when they brought their 8-month-old to Alinea in Chicago, chef Grant Achatz’s temple of modernist cuisine.

Apparently the couple’s gamble didn’t go so well. That night, Achatz tweeted:

Predictably, the tweet set off quite a stir. One Chicagoan sharply responded, “Charge the infant for a full menu. That will stop it quickly.”

Others, like Chicago cookbook author Rupert Vaughan, came to the parents’ rescue.

Baker Robert Alexander pointed out it’s not just babies who can ruin meals.

And some kept a sense of humor about the incident: “Keep the babies, and ditch the men’s jacket rule,” one local posted.

Instead of traditional reservations, the restaurant offers a ticketed system, where diners must pay between $210 and $265 up front for the tasting-menu-only dinner (the price does not include tax, tip or beverages). The restaurant does not accept walk-ins.

Eater Chicago reports that that the couple’s sitter canceled at the last minute (likely story!), but Alinea does allow diners to sell or giveaway their diner tickets, which must be booked weeks, even months, in advance.

Dinner at the restaurant is an event—about three hours long with 18 courses, all artfully and painstakingly prepared, and sent out into a sleek dining room.

There’s no sign out front; diners open a big, heavy door and walk down a long hallway, then and step onto something that triggers an automatic sliding door, 

“Immediately, you think, ‘Where am I?’ You kind of feel like Dorothy walking toward the Wizard of Oz—what’s going on here?” Chicago magazine chief dining critic Jeff Ruby told TODAY.com.

Courses might include duck five ways with choice of 60 garnishes, or an edible balloon. 

“It all adds up to a place where a baby would not make any sense whatsoever,” Ruby said. “If I had paid all that money and had been sitting at next table, I’d be pissed—and I have a baby. If you asked 100 people, 99 out of the 100 would say a baby should not be there.” 

Full disclosure: On Friday night, my husband I brought our 4-month-old out to eat at a semi-decent place for the first time. But it was a neighborhood kind of restaurant, we went at 5:30 p.m., and I would never dream of bringing her anywhere with a tasting menu, let alone a place on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List. We lucked out and she was an angel, but I was terrified the entire time, making me wonder, is this worth it?

As Ruby told us, “I couldn’t mind anything else less fun than bringing a baby to Alinea. It’s like how the parents of a screaming baby on an airplane are always more miserable than the people around them, because they know they’re driving everyone around them nuts.”

So far, the chef has stayed mum on his official verdict—requests for further comment have gone unanswered—but Achatz did playfully post a picture of two stuffed fish heads on Twitter last night:

And others are also having fun with the controversy: @Alineababy was born, and is already writing Yelp reviews

What do you think? Have you brought an infant to a fancy dinner out? Or have you ever had a fine-dining meal ruined by a crying baby? 

TOP