Is the UK really that child-unfriendly?

by 21stcenturymummy on June 24, 2010

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Nick Duerden asks in an article in The Independent, earlier this month, if an evening out with decent food, good ambience – and young children in tow, is too much to ask? He suggests there’s a mentality in the UK that you shouldn’t eat out with toddlers. You can read the full article here.

I have also noticed quite a few recent posts on the blogosphere about Child-UNfriendly England. On one post “Is England Child-Unfriendly” by the lovely Heather from NotesfromLapland, one of my favourite bloggers, pretty much all the comments are of the opinion it is child-unfriendly.

Sorry people, I just don’t agree. BUT, it seems like I’m in a minority. Perhaps it’s because I live in the bubble that is Nappy Valley (Fulham) in the even bigger bubble, that is London, that I do think it’s child-friendly. But then again, I’ve always found places outside London to be great for kids as well.

What is everyone expecting exactly?

Eating Out

Taking eating out for example, yes, I think it’s harder to take young children out for a meal in the UK, when most of our evenings are cold, raining and dark. Who wouldn’t rather be at home in the warm? There aren’t very many restaurants that have outdoor space for the children to run around, like you find on the continent, either. So, perhaps that adds to the apparent mentality that you shouldn’t do it.

That said, WE do it regularly, especially in the Summer, and have done every since my 2 year old was a baby. It’s great to eat out as a family as we don’t often get the chance to at home and our 2 year old loves it too. Most restaurants do have high chairs (if not she sits on a normal seat) and many offer kids menus or will happily do a small version of a main dish. Every restaurant we’ve taken her to has been very welcoming. We even go to the very traditional Simpsons on The Strand each year (and have done since she was 2 months old) on Remembrance Sunday, because we do a big family lunch there. No one has ever complained.

Acting Their Age

I do think children should behave properly if you are eating out, which means they shouldn’t run around screaming. In the same way, I would expect my two year old to behave properly at mealtimes at home. Understandably, other diners might find children who do create havoc somewhat irritating, but that doesn’t mean little ones can’t act their age. In my experience, other customers don’t mind if they do.

We don’t chain our 2 year old to the table or tell her off for blowing bubbles in her drink, but she’s well-behaved, and actually, usually ends up making friends with half the restaurant. Eating out also teaches her to sit still for more than two seconds. We take things to keep her occupied like colouring books or her favourite toys in case she gets bored. And yes, we do also sometimes resort to bribery, usually along the lines of “there’ll be no ice-cream at the end if she plays up too much”.

This post focusses on eating out, but London as an endless list of places that are great for young children:

Most of the museums have fantastic sections for Under 5s. The Science Museum, Army Museum and V&A for example, are all surprisingly fun for younger ones. Plus, there are lots of playgrounds, soft play areas (Eddie Catz, Gambados),  even members clubs for families such as Maggie and Rose, Purple Dragon, Cupcake Mum and so many parks within easy reach where you can let your kids let off steam.

I recently did an interview for Little London Observationist about living in London with kids, you can read it here.

Is it really that different in the rest of the UK?

If you disagree with me, and I’m sure plenty will, what would make Britain more child-friendly?


Angel June 24, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Hi, I really like this post. I too live in London and find that most places are child-friendly. However there have been a few restaurants who have turned me and my 10 month old daughter away at the door, and it was only for lunch!


21stcenturymum June 26, 2010 at 7:42 am

Would you care to name names???

nappyvalleygirl June 25, 2010 at 6:23 pm

I am living in the US at the moment and I have to say, many more people eat out with their kids in the evening. Nearly every restaurant has a kids’ menu and many have crayons/drawing stuff (whereas I found that in the UK this was usually confined to the likes of Pizza Express). I am sure there are some smart restaurants in Manhattan where you wouldn’t take kids but outside the city, nearly everywhere is family-friendly including places with excellent food.

21stcenturymum June 26, 2010 at 7:41 am

Is that where you live, NYC? We’re looking into moving to the US, but finding it pretty difficult.

Jude June 29, 2010 at 11:31 am

For me, it’s more an overall attitude problem, an intolerance about children behaving as children – I’m not really talking about restaurants here. I have 2 boisterous boys, and recently had to field complaints from a neighbour because they were playing football in a shared yard at the back. ‘It’s not a football pitch’ were her words. We have no garden, and it is not safe to play out in the street because of the cars, so there is nowhere else for them to play. I often catch scowls or disapproving looks from other people because they’re playing hide and seek in a large shop, or tearing off down the pavement at top speed on their scooters. I do try to control their worst excesses, but they are just small boys, acting like small boys, and I think they should be allowed to do so. Lots of people in the UK don’t seem to agree.

Dave July 12, 2010 at 3:44 pm

I think there are plenty of child friendly restaurants in the UK, they are called Macdonalds and Burger King. Anything upmarket, well forget it – you will struggle to get a buggy in, there is often no high chair and definitely no kids menu. Ever tried feeding a four year old a half portion of some pretentious adult dish with black pepper and blue cheese? (this was in a cafe attached to a museum popular with kids by the way!) They are getting better, but still hopeless. Ben Elton’s sitcom “Blessed” summed this up wonderfully.

21stcenturymum July 12, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Thanks for your comments. I’m probably quite lucky as my 2 year old will eat anything. I know MacDonalds and Burger King are popular with a lot of families, however I’m not a fan. I don’t like the food and think it’s pretty unhealthy. Will have to check out Blessed.

Lars Rasmussen September 11, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Hmm… MacDonalds and Burger King “child friendly”? The indestructible furniture might be, but the fat-filled chemical food surely isn’t! I have always found restaurants in “alternative” places (e.g. vegetarian) to be pretty child-friendly. I think it goes with the whole alternative thing – the British are so child-unfriendly generally that one way to be radical in the UK is just to actually like children!

I should say, however, that on our recent trip to London with our boys it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. We avoided the London Eye and the nearby Aquarium. The science museum is fantastic – you can spend the whole day there for nothing! Paris was better (better tranpsort and more playgrounds) but London was OK.

21stcenturymummy September 11, 2010 at 9:59 pm

The sad thing is people do actually have their kids’ birthday parties in MacDonalds/Burger King.
(The Aquarium is fantastic. My 2 year old loves it.)

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