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?

From Korea with Love




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