Care for little company?

As pubs begin to serve scrumptious nibbles and restaurants expand their alcohol menu, customers are beginning to see nothing wrong in taking their kids along for a night out. As restaurants get more child-friendly, are pubs going down the same road, wonders Dhamini Ratnam

Not more than three weeks ago, this writer was reviewing a new bar that had opened in South Mumbai's Kala Ghoda district, when a group of six, including two children, aged seven or thereabouts, walked in. Their parents surveyed the tiny loft-like space, settled for a table and ordered their alcohol. Soon, as the music was cranked up, one of the fathers picked up his child and began to dance, while the rest in his group cheered him on. The other customers barely glanced at them.

A little boy and his father sit not too far away from a well-stocked bar,
waiting for their order to arrive on a Wednesday night at 9 pm at TGIF's
Lower Parel outlet. The diner is a popular hangout for young professionals
from the commercial district who meet up for an after-work drink.
Pic/ Satyajit Desai

Drinking out in the city is no longer the lonely hearts club it once was. As nuclear families become the norm among Mumbai's urban working professionals, parents aren't averse to taking their children along for a quick drink or two at popular pubs and diners. What makes this easier is the open house policy of most restaurants that serve alcohol. As the distinction between pubs and restaurants gets sketchier -- today's patrons expect good food in pubs and a detailed alcohol menu in restaurants -- it isn't surprising to find a mixed clientele that comprises kids tagging along with their parents.

Jay Singh, co-founder and executive director, JSM Corporation Pvt. Ltd. that co-owns the Hard Rock Cafe chain in India, agrees. "A lot of pubs now serve good food, and a lot of restaurants serve alcohol. Establishments are straddling both worlds." Which is why, Singh finds it difficult to label his own place. "Hard Rock is a family restaurant, but it's also a pub. We serve liquor, organise live gigs and serve great food. I find it tough to fit HRC into a label," he says.

It pays then for the Cafe to have an open house policy. "We are open for everyone," says Singh. What this means is that often a child or two will be found sitting patiently besides a group of elders as they sip on their beer and listen to music. "The last time I went to Hard Rock for an after-work drink with friends, there were two young children running around. Our group was amused," says Kanika Pal, a 28 year-old Corporate Social Responsibility professional from New Delhi.

While Pal got over her amusement soon enough, and found herself questioning whether the children belonged there, journalist Suparna Thombare doesn't mind sharing pub space with a child as long as the parents act responsibly. For Singh, the decision to have children inside Hard Rock Cafe is best left to parents. "Parents are quite responsible and perform their own mental filtering. They'll know that by 10, the place could become loud, so they'll choose to arrive by 7.30 pm and leave by 9.30 pm. Parents are responsible enough to make their own choices. Who am I to place restrictions?" says Singh.

"No one wants to see 100 kids running around (in a pub) on a Friday night, but then again, you don't," he adds.
However, for WTF! owner Kishore DF, this explanation doesn't quite make the cut. WTF!, a pub with branches in Khar, Andheri, and Malad has a policy of disallowing people below 21. What's more, he says, that's what pubs around the city do -- or are supposed to, at any rate. Even The Big Nasty, his newest bar and diner in Union Park, just off Carter Road promenade, allows children only till 7 pm. The joint begins serving alcohol at 7.30 pm.
But that didn't seem to have stopped a couple from bringing their two year old to WTF!, Khar, points out Thombare, who visited the pub last week. The couple, says the 28 year-old journalist, who visits the pub every other month, was standing in the open-air area. They, however, left soon after. "That's where people stand and smoke. I don't think children should be exposed to that," adds Thombare.

Bishnu Das, associate vice president (Western and Southern India) for Bistro Hospitality Pvt. Ltd. which runs the Thank God It's Friday's (popularly known as TGIF) chain of diners in India, explains the couple's behaviour as a shift in cultural attitudes of the urban middle class.

"In the last eight to 10 years, there has been a shift in the way people behave. Alcohol is now, a way of life. More women are drinking in pubs than they did a decade ago. Alcohol is no longer taboo, which is why parents wouldn't hesitate to take their kids along for a quick drink."

However, Singh strikes a note of reason. "I'd take my eight year-old son along if I'm going out drinking with friends, as long as they'd bring their kids too. But I'd make sure we end early. But if we are planning a night out to party, then I'd rather leave him at home."

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