Should kids be allowed in pubs?

While I was visiting my dad in Manchester, I had a difference of opinion with the manageress of a Wetherspoons pub in Ashton-under-Lyne.

We’d just finished shopping and had stopped by the pub for a pint and a glass of lemonade before catching the bus home.

‘Will you be eating?’ a barmaid asked my dad.

‘No. Just a drink, please,’ he replied.

‘Then I’m afraid the children will have to sit outside.’

What the…!

‘But we’re only stopping for a quick one,’ my dad said.

‘I’m sorry, sir, but it’s company policy. If they’re not eating, then I’m afraid they can’t drink.’

I was getting rather thirsty by now, so joined my dad at the bar to find out what the delay was. When the policy was explained to me I was baffled, but suggested a solution.

‘OK, can we get a couple of ice cream desserts for my sons?’ I asked.

‘Sorry, sir. It has to be a main meal.’

I asked to see the manageress who very firmly, but very politely explained the reasons behind the inexplicable policy.

‘We get mothers and fathers as young as 18 and 19 coming in with their babies and then just sitting here all day getting drunk,’ she said. ‘We want to promote responsible drinking, and insisting on them buying a main course at least puts some stodge in their stomachs to prevent them getting drunk.’

‘Nonsense,’ I replied. ‘It’s just about making money. There’s no profit on a lemonade so you insist on people buying a main course to screw some cash out of them.’

‘I’m sorry you disagree, sir,’ the manageress said. ‘But that’s the company policy.’

After a bit more to-ing and fro-ing, the manageress eventually used her discretion to allow us a couple of pints and a couple of lemonades, but after that we would be refused further refreshments unless we sat outside in the freezing Manchester rain, which was by-the-by because we were only stopping for one, anyway.

Now I’m not a huge fan of kids in pubs – especially when they’re not controlled by their parents. But I rule mine with a rod of iron. If we go to a pub, they either sit and do some colouring in or, if I’ve got my laptop, they keep themselves entertained on Friv or Moshi Monsters. What they’re not allowed to do is run around annoying other drinkers.

But we allegedly live in a café society now, and children are welcome in the nation’s hostelries. Only welcome, it seems, at Wetherspoons, if the parents are prepared to stump up an extra £8 for a burger and chips.

The next day, we went to another nearby town. This, too, has a Wetherspoons, so we gave it a wide berth and went to a neighbouring pub, whose name I won’t reveal lest the owners come looking for me!

This place was not just crawling with kids, but running amok with them. There were two lads, about the same age as mine, chasing each other with pool queues; a couple of zombified toddlers were strapped tightly into buggies; a baby was screaming the place down in its pram in the corner. And all the while their parents sat around drinking and swearing and shouting at the loud widescreen TV at the horse race taking place.

‘How long have they been in here?’ I said to one of the locals.

‘Since opening time.’

It was now 4.30pm, so they’d been drinking for around five hours.

‘Have they had any food?’ I asked.

‘They don’t serve food here,’ came the reply.

I looked at my lads sipping at their Cokes, a look of terror and bemusement on their faces, which said: ‘What hellish place have you brought us to, Dad?’

Then I turned to my Dad: ‘Sup up, we’re going. This is no place for kids.’

Perhaps Wetherspoons has got it right after all.

What do you think? Should children be allowed in pubs?


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10 Responses to Should kids be allowed in pubs?

  1. It might be a licensing issue. One of my first jobs was as a waitress for a large chain of restaurants. Each restaurant had what is known as a refreshment licence so could serve alcohol with a meal but not without. Maybe children should only be in the restaurant of a wetherspoons and not the bar with the restaurant only having a refreshment licence?

    I wouldn’t visit a bar with my children although I would happily visit a cafe or restaurant and make sure that they stayed in their seats. I suppose my waitressing experience makes me aware of the hazards children can be when running around in restaurants as you often can’t see them if you’re carrying food or trays etc.

    It is a shame that you only wanted to have one pint and, officially, that couldn’t be accommodated.

  2. Sara

    My 2 boys (7 & 2) go to the pub with hubby when they are going to the football. Its a social thing that’s part if their day out. They are well behaved and sit nicely. I don’t agree with kids running wild in pubs, keep it for the park or soft play, but I don’t think they should be banned either. Parents drinking all day with their kids present is just wrong.Not all Wetherspoons use this policy – hubby recently took 7 year old to London for an away match and they went in a Wetherspoons and there was no problem.

  3. I think it depends on the the pub and on the time of day. A city pub sounds a lot less inviting for kids than a country or small town pub. Also, after a certain hour a pub becomes less family friendly and more of a night venue – then children shouldn’t be allowed. During the day there can be a very nice family atmosphere that would benefit both pub and customers.

  4. No but yes.

    I know that’s a stupid answer. I can’t see the reason why in your situation that you shouldn’t have been able to go in. However, because of horrendous people like the example you’ve mentioned then everyone gets tarred with the same brush.

    Personally I was a little distressed to see photos of a friend who has recently become a single mother, in the pub with her friend during the day. They had a bottle of red wine and two pints of Guiness on the table, and six children between them. I queried who the responsible adult was.

    If you reply to this can you tweet me so I can look back?

  5. I seem to remember in Wetherspoons early days they promoted themselves as a bit of a sanctuary for people wanting an alternative to family friendly pubs full of mewling toddlers and wacky warehouses. I guess that still stands, but now it’s a head fake towards responsible drinking. Gotta admire their chutzpah.

    To answer your question, I think pub chains and landlords need to strike a balance and it shouldn’t be a free for all. We’ve come a long way since I (and you, Keith, I suspect) was a kid. A lemonade on a bench outside was de rigeur. If you ventured inside you really felt like you were entering some inner sanctum. Which, I guess, you were.

  6. I had a similar problem with Wetherspoons a while back…the difference was that I didn’t even want alcohol – just a coffee for myself & a hot chocolate & fruit toast for my (then) 4 year old daughter – apparently fruit toast doesn’t count as a main meal & even if it did I would’ve had to order one for myself too. Silly rules but I can see why they do it – at the time I couldn’t though!

  7. Yes, they should. It’s up to us all to set the good example both to our children, and society in general. The rest of Europe seems to manage it pretty well.

  8. Good question!

    It reminds me of a story told to me by my brother in Cardiff. He’s a fireman, stationed in the north of the city, and was called out to a fire at a “fun” pub in the Valleys.

    When they evacuated the pub they found they had about 120 children and 7 adults!

    …it was later discovered that parents had been dropping their kids off at the pub while they went off into town for some serious shopping and/or drinking.

    Good post Keith – it is an interesting one!


  9. I don’t think this is as much of a problem here in the States. This is mostly due to the fact that you can’t really find a good pub here. They are either night clubs (definitely no kids allowed) or sports bars that are basically just restaurants that serve alcohol. Even if you did find a pub, there wouldn’t be much reason to take your kids there because there’s probably a place across the street where you could get the same drink and they have coloring books to keep the kids occupied.

    From my visit to the UK a few years ago (loved it, by the way), I know that it’s much different there. Let’s look at it from the financial perspective of the pub. 75% of parents would probably do what you were doing: drop in for a single drink and keep the kids well under control. That remaining 25% would have to be horrible for business though. I wouldn’t want to go into a pub where a couple kids were swinging pool sticks around. I don’t think it’s the pub so much trying to regulate how we raise our kids as much as ensuring that they have a steady clientelle and therefore a profit.

  10. Mel

    Perhaps the bigger question is should people who spend their entire days in pubs with children be allowed to keep them? I vote no. Stopping by for a pint and lemonade – reasonable.