Bring Your Own High Chair: The Earls Restaurant Debacle

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Earls Highchair Debacle

Guess what Earls Restaurant? Families living in Metro Vancouver are happy to take our business elsewhere.

The debate all started when Michelle – a new mom with a baby – decided to meet up with friends at the Earls in North Vancouver. A longtime customer of Earls Restaurants, she was disappointed to learn that there were no highchairs nor change tables available. She decided to write a post to Earls on Facebook with her complaint about the lack of conveniences for families which has since gone viral with over 500 likes and hundreds of comments.

Earls decided to write back saying “although we at Earls love families, we would not classify ourselves as a family restaurant. Our restaurants do not, as a rule, offer highchairs & booster chairs or changing stations.”

Interesting as that was, Michelle felt there was more to the story and wrote back to Earls “When I think of your competitors, I think of The Keg, The Boathouse, Cactus Club & Milestones. All of these restaurants cater to the same clientele as Earls…I phoned these restaurants to see if they provided high chairs or change tables. ALL of them do and in fact, the Boathouse (Port Moody) and Keg (Coquitlam) even go so far to provide a family washroom facility. I thought you should be aware of what your competition is up to as I will be sure to take my business there in the future. I will also be sure to let all of my parent friends be aware that your restaurant does not consider itself to be a family establishment.”

Take that Earls Restaurant. And here is the thing you don’t know about moms in the Tri-Cities where Michelle and I live. We hang out together online in moms groups with hundreds and hundreds of members and everyone is talking about this…Nobody is planning to head to Earls for dinner with or without the kids.

As Stephanie from the Tri-Cities Moms Group puts it “There are certainly better (and yummier) choices out there at which we will choose to dine!”

After all the bad publicity with articles on TheThirtiesGrind blog, GlobalBC, MSN’s Embrace the Chaos, and The Province, Earls has since come back with a message on their website, clearly scrambling to salvage their reputation.

According to Earls, “we welcome all guests, including families with children…some of our restaurants do have highchairs, approximately a quarter of our locations, and just over half our restaurants have booster chairs…” although mostly in suburban areas.

However “our restaurants do not offer a children’s menu…Instead we find parents feel many of our appetizers are suitable and those who wish to may ask for a modified menu, preferring those fresh, healthy choices we prepare from scratch over a frozen, pre-prepared product other restaurants might offer as their “children’s menu”.

Ha ha! This summer, we stayed in Whistler for a couple of nights with our four year old. We were looking for a place near our hotel and landed at Earls, probably a first for our family since kids. To be fair, we were treated well, but let’s be clear – our son ate the breaded chicken fingers off the appetizer menu. Not sure how fresh and healthy that was.

The whole debacle just leaves a bad taste in my mouth (not a fresh, healthy taste!). It’s not like I would regularly go to Earls with my child but to find out that they actively discourage babies and children by not providing the basics for them and suggest you bring your own highchair or need to call ahead to see if they have one? Ridiculous.

And it’s really too bad that Earls decided to come out so firmly to say they aren’t a family restaurant. As the mother of a young child, my customer service expectations and choices now revolve around which stores, restaurants and organizations are family friendly. I get that Earls is not and I don’t plan to go there for any reason in the near future – not for date night and especially not for moms night out.

For parents looking for family friendly restaurants, I personally like Montana’s, White Spot, Boston Pizza, Milestones, The Keg and Sammy J Peppers.

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25 thoughts on “Bring Your Own High Chair: The Earls Restaurant Debacle

  1. Some people might be quite happy if no parents with small kids show up at their watering hole, so a boycott might not really send a message. What if 10 moms showed up, for a reservation, with their high chairs? Now that would be interesting…

  2. Well not surprised at all!! Lets say that over 20 years ago in Calgary my husband and our 3 daughters went to a local Earls resturant…only to be told, we dont have high chairs as we dont cater for families!!!!
    Yup that was already over 20 years ago, that was one of the last times I ever went to an Earls. Our young daughters were well behaved, quiet and it was imperitive that we at least were made to feel welcome in that establishment!!!
    When we walked out of that Earls so long ago, it left a disgusitng taste in my mouth and I of course made sure to tell everyone what happened. IF you have children, dont bother to go there.!!!

  3. While I do think it is an inconvenience to not have these facilities at Earls, I have not stopped dining there. I have two little girls (a 4 year old and a 1 year old). We recently ate at the Earls on Lougheed in Burnaby (twice in the past month) and the service was phenomenal. We brought our own booster for our 1 year old as our 4 year old does not require one. Our 4 year old is very chatty and our servers were very delightful with her. I think as parents, we have to make our own choices and if Earls is not for you, that’s fine, but I enjoy their food and have never been turned away because I have children.

  4. My SO keeps insisting that legally, every restaurant must have at least one high chair, tho maybe he’s off base. We haven’t been to Earl’s since the little one was in an infant seat & the seat could be propped in a chair. Honestly, I don’t feel like I’m missing much, tho we did eat at Earl’s somewhat frequently before. I’d rather patronize local restaurants that welcome kids, even now that we don’t need a high chair. And Earl’s was never nice enough for a real night out, sans kid. Not sure Earl’s will be seeing us any time in the next 20 years, and not sure I’m missing anything.

    1. Yup, I share your sentiments. There are so many other nice places to go that I don’t choose to go somewhere that wouldn’t welcome me whether I have my son with me or not.

  5. Totally agree with your blog post and stand in solidarity with other parents who have young children like myself.

    The solution is simple: Earls: buy some high chairs…case closed.

    1. Yes, at this point they need to get high chairs at all locations to make this go away…The fact that the Boat House, Milestones, Keg, Sammy J’s – all competitors – have highchairs, and even family bathrooms. It’s just so easy to go elsewhere where we are genuinely welcomed. Loved your blog too!! Thanks for dropping by.

  6. I think it’s so funny that earls goes so far to discourage having babies sit alongside parents in the restaurants. Let’s be honest, babies stay in one place. If mommy has enough energy to put on decent clothing, maybe some makeup, and show up in this type of restaurant then the baby probably isn’t constantly screaming either. Soooo, comeon earls, at least make it safe to have our babes with us. Obviously you can’t keep our rambunctious toddlers and loud children away… They don’t need special seats or change tables.

    Hey, here’s a thought: If you really want to make the money spenders feel welcome and comfortable, discourage mobs of teens/Tweens out for dinner without supervision. They’re more disruptive than my small children could ever be (until they’re Tweens themselves that is)

    1. Thank you Dana – yes, I was surprised about the nasty comments on the Facebook page about “whining” and disruptive kids….I think people have forgotten to be kind and that it is not just children who can be disruptive.

      1. Of course there have been nasty comments made by people on both sides of this issue and it reflects poorly on those making them. It’s true that it is not just children that can be disruptive and diners are well within their rights to ask management to deal with any disruptive or vulgar behaviour that is occurring. A well run business should deal with such issues without diners having to complain, but as we know it isn’t a perfect world.

  7. I find it interesting that near the end of your blog you write, “as the mother of a young child, my customer service expectations and choices now revolve around which stores, restaurants and organizations are family friendly”, but you don’t seem to think it is appropriate for others to base their preferences on businesses, services, etc that choose not to be infant friendly.

    “Earls” is a business and certainly people dismayed highchairs aren’t provided should certainly hold “Earls” accountable by withholding their custom. If the business loses money as a result of a baby inspired boycott, I’m sure they will reconsider their position; however if business increases because people in favour of an infant free eating environment “Earls” will have achieved a result that would have cost them millions to achieve through paid advertising. Let the people decide if “Earls” is right or wrong with their wallets.

    1. Hi James. Thank you for the thoughtful comment. I agree with you. Everyone should vote with their wallets like I will. The thing is – Earls seems to want it both ways: they said in their statement they would like me to come with work colleagues, or for date night or moms night. But I am not going to choose their establishment knowing that I am not welcome when I have my child with me…I am a parent always not just sometimes…love my son, and I will be loyal to your brand for a long time…

  8. Wow, I cannot even believe that happened and that they would come out to say that they essentially don’t welcome families with children to their restaurant! I don’t have children yet, but I know they’re going to be a big deciding factor as to where I take my family to dinner. I can happily report that, thus far and to my knowledge, the restaurants I frequent do have all of the necessities for a family night out, including a kid’s menu!

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention, I’m going to make sure to pass it along!

  9. I had a similar experience at Starbucks once. I was so insensed that there was no change table in the bathroom that I told the manager that if he didn’t get one by the next time I came in that I would change the baby ontop of a bistro table. The change table went in the following week.

  10. I read through a bunch of the comments on that post & was surprised by how many parents said something along the lines of “if I am out for dinner without my kids, the last thing I want to hear is someone else’s screaming brat”. First of all, I think that shows an appalling lack of empathy for new parents. If you have been there recently or your children are older, I would hope you understand that no parent wants to go out & inflict their screaming child on others. I personally would be mortified if my 7 month old caused a big scene in a restaurant. Either his father or I would remove him until he calmed down. Secondly, it upsets me that it is alright for patrons to have loud discussions about coarse and/or vulgar topics, ruining my dining experience and yet a child’s normal noise level would be considered unacceptable. I have had many a meal wrecked by the next table over’s f this, f that conversation, including at Earl’s.

  11. I know Krista. I think people forget about empathy and kindness when they write such critical comments…hope you are doing well with your little guy!

  12. Trying to understand the point of making this debate so heated and ugly on both sides. The bottom line is that this restaurant is not going to bring in a changing table and high chairs. They won’t turn you away if you bring children, but you won’t feel comfortable if you have to hold the little one on your lap the entire time while he/she drops food all over your clothes. So you can try a different establishment, and if your friends suggest meeting there, you can easily prepare by bringing in extra towels, wipes, etc and maybe your own travel booster. They are not trying to knock our important role as parents. They are just running a business. And business will thrive for them because there is a big population of people who don’t really care if they have changing tables and high chairs or not.

  13. I took my 18 month old to Earls for a family birthday dinner in Burnaby a few months ago. There were no high chairs, so we had to let him roam around and knock things over, I had to change him on the counter in the bathroom. We made it work, but really Earl’s just ticked off more of their customers because my son couldn’t be tied down. I don’t think we should take our business elsewhere, because that is what they want. I say we just go and make do with it, so they bring the high chairs back!

  14. I don’t have children, but I am a doting aunt and great-aunt, and I have no problem going to “family restaurants” with little kids around. But I really don’t see how people can demand that a company which says they DON’T consider themself a “family restaurant” cater to families. (Saying they love families does NOT equate to trying to be a family restaurant. It’s good corporate speak.) I find the atmosphere in Earl’s to be geared more to adults. The fact that they don’t offer a children’s menu should be a big clue. So boycott away, but I think you’ll find it won’t affect their corporate policy (or profits), because presumably the clientele they’re after will still patronize them.

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