No Children Allowed: A Recipe for Publicity

A few weeks ago, the owner of a little restaurant attached to a golf driving range in Pennsylvania, decided to introduce a new policy that it will no longer serve any person under the age of six.

As principal of a PR firm with restaurant clients, I followed this story right from the beginning. From what I observed, the story was initially reported by a local TV news outlet in Pittsburgh on July 8th. The Associated Press picked it up and reported it the following day. From there, the media frenzy took off.

If this were a legal blog, I’d pontificate about the obvious discrimination against children under six years old. From my understanding, children are not a protected class unlike senior citizens.  Unfortunately or fortunately (depending on your point of view), I do not hold a law degree so I can’t say whether there are legal implications to this restaurant’s policy.

Since this is the PR Breakfast Club, which serves everyone in PR (including the ones who at times act like children—you know who you are!), just let me say that from a PR standpoint, this new restaurant policy was a win. Here are my three reasons why:

1) PR breeds conversation – From the news coverage and subsequent comments from individuals, there’s no doubt this new policy was talked about.

2) PR generates media coverage – Mike Vuick, owner of McDain’s restaurant, on CNN said he’s done more than 110 interviews including two in Australia and one in New Zealand—as much as I despise equating media coverage with advertising dollar equivalency—the amount of publicity is definitely in the millions.

3) PR brings long-term recall – You may forget the nitty-gritty details about this story in the future, but people who’ve seen or read anything about this will remember it for a long time. A similar example would be the airline that was going to charge two coach seats for overweight passengers, you remember that, right?

I’m sure you fine PR folks have other reasons why this is or isn’t a PR win so please feel free to share and let me know what you think @PRFlipside. However, I do predict that a restaurant that issues a policy not to serve anyone over his/her body mass index will secure publicity too and start a different conversation.

P.S. Personally, as a dad and golfer, I think this new restaurant policy is baseless. Caring and responsible parents are aware and don’t want their child to have a meltdown at any restaurant. My wife and I who are blessed with two adorable boys in the autism spectrum have cut short restaurant visits or taken our child outside when having a meltdown—trust me the food isn’t as delish in the minivan with a wailing child in the backseat. What make this policy quite absurd is this is a restaurant attached to a driving range. The next Tiger Woods could be turned away.

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  • Thanks for the post Joseph.  I’m trying to think about what type of coverage that the owner /PR firm was trying to generate for a little restaurant that arguably serves a local clientele vs. a PR campaign for a national or regional chain which seems to be more applicable for this type of effort.  In other words, was this an intentional PR effort or simply a byproduct of the owner’s decision to enact a policy simply because he became annoyed with crying children?  Even if the PR angle was unintentional, what benefit was derived from this?  Did they see an influx of new customers seeking asylum from restaurant atmospheres that include younger children who want to peacefully enjoy their meal?  Did his sales go through the roof because of this and did the PR and WOM result in so much traffic that he had to drive people away?  Unless this act resulted in a significant boost in sales, or some sort of revenue generation from the publicity then I see it simply as someone who arbitrarily created a policy that happened to go viral because of it’s apparent audacity.  Nothing more.  

    • I would surprised if it was a PR stunt…especially the way it developed in the media. My guess for a tiny place like this – they are just trying to improve their local business by solving an issue (who knows – maybe it was one revisiting child they needed to get rid of!) I feel generating this type of large scale publicity is fruitless after the audience within a 30miles has acted on the restaurant’s attention.

      • Thanks for your comment. I agree. I don’t think this was a planned PR effort. One of my points is to merely show the value of earned media and what it could do for a small business.

    • Thanks for your comment. I don’t think this was a planned PR campaign. From what I gathered, the owner stated that his restaurant has been fully-booked through the next month. The policy, though I don’t support it, resulted in sales. One point I’m trying to make is to show how free media coverage whether planned or accidental can generate revenues for a business.

      • Thanks for the feedback Joseph.  True that free media coverage can generate revenues, and sometimes the shock value of a PR effort can have some serious legs.  Wonder how long it will be sustainable…my guess is that the key will lie in knocking the socks off of the customers through outstanding food and excellent service to get them to continue coming back.  PR is simply the primer, it’s up to the owner to apply the coats of paint.

        • It’s tough enough to secure media coverage and even tougher to sustain it. The unlikeliness of this type of restaurant to have such a policy obviously fueled the interest. I’m not sure if it would have received as much media play if it had been a high-end restaurant in Manhattan where it is expected that guests shouldn’t bring children. Maybe in a few months, owner will introduce a kids’ menu. Haha…

  • As a parent of a 5-year old, and former restaurant employee, I’ll tell you why this is not baseless.  Meltdowns are only part of the problem.  Children walking or running around unattended can be dangerous as servers come in or out of the kitchen.  That is what usually makes me catch my breath.  If the members of the club are older, perhaps it was a weighed risk that this would appeal to the majority of the clients already being served and attract more of the same. So, yes, on the PR side it is a win to step out with a point of differentiation that creates some controversy.  If there are multiple golf courses in the area, he staked his claim for a specific percentage of golfers to choose his locale. Thanks for sharing it and starting the discussion.

    • Thanks for sharing. As a dad who takes two boys to the driving range, it doesn’t seem right to not be able to sit down and eat with them at the restaurant that is connected to it. But again, when my boys act up anywhere, I simply remove them from that situation.

      • joanna

        That’s great that you remove your children at the time they are acting up but unfortuntely most do not.

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  • Janettapp

    I sincerely doubt that PR was even a consideration in this decision. The restaurant manger was probably responding to the majority of his customers’ concerns. Having had to sit thbrough many a restaurant meal listening to someone’s bratty kid screaming and more I would patronize this place just to have a peaceful meal.

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  • joanna

    What does body mass have to do with a business owners right of not wanting anyone including children disrupting their business or that of their guests. I have had too many dinners ruined by bad parenting skills. Personally, I think it’s about time.

    Joanna 

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  • I would imagine that the owner is shocked by the publicity this has generated. What makes this so interesting is that it is also a great topic for debate. Even from the comments on this blog, people are lining up on both sides of the argument. That is what could give the story even longer legs.