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Children Banned from (Some) Restaurants and Coffee Shops in Korea

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When two restaurants in South Korea were asked to pay damages for two separate accidents involving children who were dining with their parents, some restaurants and coffee shops in South Korea started banning kids from their establishments. As expected, many parents protested. For them, the ban is nothing but a form of discrimination, not a way for restaurants to avoid mishaps and legal concerns. On the other hand, citizens who support the ban are saying that restaurant owners have the right to make new policies concerning their businesses, because children these days tend to be rowdy and ungovernable even in public places.

A sign that says: "Children under 5 years are not allowed to enter." (Source: Hankook Ilbo)

A sign that says: “Children under 5 years are not allowed to enter.” (Source: Hankook Ilbo)

A couple of times, I have seen little children running around restaurants while their parents are engrossed in their chitchats with other adults. I am not referring to your typical family diner or a fast food restaurant (like McDonald’s) where the little ones can eat and play. I have seen children turn a fancy restaurant into a playground and the parents did absolutely nothing! I recall that time when my husband and I were having dinner at Lotte Hotel World’s La Seine Buffet. Two boys were racing towards the buffet table and almost bumped into me. If I had not seen them coming, I would have accidentally spilled food on the floor! Another incident happened in a galbi restaurant, the one with the big built-in grill that uses red-hot coals. We had just finished our first order of galbi. A restaurant employee was removing the coal from our grill to replace it with a new one when this child, about 3 or 4, approached our table. I swear, she was just a few inches away from getting scalded by the sweltering coal!

I’ve witnessed this hullabaloo not only in Korea, but also in the Philippines. Once we had a customer in Ra’s who ate with her two naughty children. While the Mom was ordering food, the older kid toyed with our straw dispenser and kept pressing it until a handful of straws fell off the counter. The Mom didn’t tell the kid to stop. Instead, she asked her to get some straws for their drinks. She was an obedient child, I’ll tell you that, because she took half of the straws from the dispenser! I was waiting for the Mom to tell her child to return the straws that they would not use, but she just left without saying a word. She didn’t do anything, too, when her children were running around while eating and when the younger kid threw up, leaving a nasty souvenir on the floor for the other costumers to see (and smell). The janitor’s office was a few steps away from where she was seated. The least she could do if she didn’t want to clean her child’s mess was to alert the janitor, so he could mop the floor, but after asking her toddler if he was okay and wiping his mouth and his vomit-soaked shirt, she returned to her seat as if nothing happened. She didn’t even bother to tell her kids to sit down and eat like children with proper table manners do. I had to ask one of our employees to run to the janitor’s office to have the floor cleaned.

“Kids will be kids”, this is what most parents with misbehaving children say, but what if a child scurrying around a restaurant poses a risk to himself and/or to the servers? Would a parent take responsibility for any accidents that may occur as a result of the child’s recklessness? In the case of the two restaurants in Korea that I have mentioned earlier, it was the staff who got the blame.

A local court recently ruled that two restaurants should pay 10 million won and 47 million won to two children, respectively, who were scalded while dining. One child ran into a restaurant employee carrying hot water and another was burned by charcoal fire. (Source: The Korea Times)

According to some restaurant and coffee shop owners, other customers complain when kids make too much noise. A certain Mr. Im, owner of a cafe, shared his thoughts online:

The other day customers complained so much due to a noisy child. If kids are breaking the calm atmosphere, the number of customers will go down. This is why other cafes are also considering adopting a No Kids Zone. (Source: Koreabang)

Foreigners also have something to say about the issue. On Dave’s ESL Cafe you will find posts such as:

I, for one, agree with the restaurants who ban children because I have seen on too many occasions Korean parents who just let their child wander about restaurants without a care about what the child is up to.
I also think it is harsh but until more Korean parents start acting up to their responsibility as parents then tough luck. (Posted by Savant)

Why not simply ban those who disturb others? Sure, I’ve been bothered by kids running around restaurants here, but I’ve also been banned by a table full of drunk ajjoshis.
Ban the action, and those that do it, not the group. (Posted by Captain Corea)

One thing I have noticed in Korea is that it is very common for parents to take their children with them in places intended for adults. I have seen kids in coffee shops, theaters, and even in bars and hofs. In fact, one of my husband’s friends sometimes takes his two sons with him during drinking sessions with his buddies. Both children are toddlers. Though they rarely misbehave, they toy with chopsticks and spoons, and sometimes spill drinks.

If you frequent coffee shops in Korea, chances are you’d find children in them, too. If you are lucky, you would even see babies, yes, babies in their strollers! Babies in coffee shops won’t probably cause trouble, but wait until they disturb the peace by crying incessantly. Some moms try to pacify them, but some just don’t know what to do.

A woman, together with her two kids, was turned away in a coffee shop where strollers are prohibited. (Source:

A woman, together with her two kids, was turned away in a coffee shop where strollers are prohibited. (Source: Hankook Ilbo)

The first time I went to a theater in Korea, I was surprised to see children as young as 2 0r 3 inside the cinema. I wasn’t going to watch an animation movie, so I wondered why those kids were there. As a matter of fact, the movie was not suitable for young viewers.

I have a nephew and a niece who are very young, and they can be pesky at times. They love to eat out, so we just can’t leave them with a baby-sitter when we have family dates. Before going out, we talk to them and remind them to behave properly or else we won’t take them with us next time. The method always works… but kids can’t be controlled all the time. When they cry or start to make trouble in public places, we just don’t ignore them.

Parents are responsible for the way their children behave. Parents should set limits for their children and not tolerate their misconduct.

According to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRC), prohibiting children from entering restaurants is illegal, because it opposes the rights of equality, but don’t restaurant owners also have the right to protect their businesses from troublesome young clienteles?

What is your take on this issue? Should restaurants and coffee shops in South Korea implement  the no-kids zone?

6 thoughts on “Children Banned from (Some) Restaurants and Coffee Shops in Korea

  1. Today I visited my favorite local coffeeshop.

    There was a mother with a baby/toddler of maybe one or two years old. It’s 9 am. Mom is sitting there with the baby and a group of friends. Baby is surprisingly well-behaved for the first twenty minutes or so, but after a while it (predictably) starts whining and crying. Mother and friends coddle it a bit, admire how cute it is, and then promptly return to their discussion. Whining becomes crying, then screaming. Seriously. A group of grown women, completely absorbed in a discussion about clothes and gossip and little nothings, and beside them a baby that’s screaming from hunger and exhaustion.

    It was very disturbing.

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  2. This sort of backlash against children is inevitable. Too many parents lack basic parenting skills, or feel a sense of entitlement that comes with the expectation that other people should put up with their ill-behaved children simply because they’re children.

    It’s incredibly annoying and dangerous to have toddlers underfoot at the supermarket because parents deal with shopping as a teaching moment or field trip. And it’s baffling to me that some parents will haul their tots into restaurants that are little more than glorified bars.

    Restaurant owners know they’re losing business, as more and more customers who want to enjoy a quiet meal stay away or find other places unappealing to the young parent crowd. These tot-toting parents are notorious for leaving huge messes, tiny tips, and allowing kids to damage restaurant property.

    I do feel for those parents with well-behaved kids, but looking at my own nieces and nephews when they were young, there’s only one or two who ever lived up to restaurant behavior standards.

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  3. Exactly! There are many kid-friendly restaurants here in SK. Why take them to a coffee shop or a bar? Grill restos can be dangerous for the little ones, too. The smartest thing to do is to take the children to a kid’s cafe or have them stay with their grandparents for a couple of hours. Surely, the grandparents won’t mind that, and the kids are safer with them.

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  4. I have 2 boys and I make sure I discipline them well. But as you have mentioned there are a lot of parents in Korea who ignore proper discipline on their children when they are out for a meal in a restaurant or coffee. They would often argue that kids will be kids (even my PILs would tell me that when I discipline my kids when they forget about how they should act in a public place.). More often than not ajummas will ignore what their kids do in a public place as long as they could enjoy their chat with friends over a cup of coffee. If they can not teach their kids how to behave well they should choose a place where there are children’s room for kids to play or better yet they should enjoy their chat in the comfort of their home…because that’s what I do.

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  5. I have three children and from point of view of parent I feel this is way too much to ban children form entering restaurants and coffee shop. First of all I feel angry because I would never let my children wonder around or disturb others. When I go somewhere where are a lot of people with my children I find ways to keep them calm. And never ever I let them run around restaurants because for me it is a matter of safety. And I am not talking about coals or hot stuff only. Children can be kidnapped and etc. So, I keep my children close to me and I am always aware of others around me who maybe disturbed by children. Also, I as a parent I feel angry and frustrated when other parents do not take care of their kids. I see nothing wrong brining children to different coffee shops and such, but I do see it wrong when parents just let their children misbehave. As you showed in your example some parents simply do not respect and what I HATE the most in people is disrespect. How hard it is to discipline your child and if he/she did something wrong apologize! I believe it is your responsibility as a parent! Unfortunately, you cannot do anything about people who DO NOT RESPECT and who do NOT TEACH their children to RESPECT!!!!!! It is upsetting that because of parents with children like that all parents have to suffer, I mean, I do respect others and make my children behave, so why should I be banned from restaurant or coffee shop if I come with my child? On the other hand I do understand well business owners. Being parent myself, I still understand that as a business owner this is not good. Going back to your example, straws are not FREE for you as a business owner, so how can person be so inconsiderate and disrespectful. After all if everyone takes all the straws from the dispenser it would mean the business owner would have to raise prices to pay for straws! So at the end this issue is complicated. I very well understand frustration of business owners and I DO NOT believe in saying Kids will be kids!!!! NO, NO and NO. Kids are kids, BUT my responsibility as a parent to show them and teach them to respect others and their belongings! Kids will not be kids, boys will not be boys! This is just stupid excuse for not taking time to teach children to behave and be respectful. To all the parents like that out there, turn of your smart phone or tell your friends to wait a little, but please, pay attention to your children and if they are disrespecting then discipline them. And let me tell you what I hear parents like this say, and I certainly DISAGREE with that, but you know what they say, for example when lady said nothing that her child threw up, well, in their head they say, hey, this is business let hem work for their money! Ridiculous, but true! I am sorry for a long post, but parents like that really get on my nerves!

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  6. Oh! I’ve seen a lot of these here. Really disappointing =( i almost bumped into two running kids in the restaurant, too.. luckily, i avoided them and they hit the corner where the plates where.. lucky for me but not for the resto though. . Once we went to a beef (grilling) resto.. i saw an ajumma with a couple of her friends.. she was rocking a Stroller which cradled a baby inside who still has a dextrose attached to her arm…by the looks of it, it was still more than half full..
    i mean, adults would enjoy the type of dining. ..however, the place, the atmosphere, the grilling on the table, the smoke were hazardous to the young one. ..the baby was coughing intermittently.. poor child.. could they not postpone eating until the child gets better? I was really annoyed at the sight. .

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