parent opinion

"Engage with your kids or don't come." The real problem with this restaurant owner's message to parents.

Attila Yilmaz, the owner of the Pazar Food Collective, a Turkish-Mexican fusion restaurant in Sydney’s Canterbury, wants parents to “engage with their children” when they’re dining at his establishment, and for families to be “involved with the food and experience”.

Well, that’s his explanation for why he’s decided to ban the use of not only electronic devices from his establishment, but also colouring books, board games and building blocks.

“Please engage with your children and each other. Life is Short,” the restaurateur began in a lengthy Facebook post on Wednesday, which further cited concerns about mess, noise and the comfort of other diners as the reason for his strict approach.

Sure, they all might be perfectly legitimate points… but the problem is, he’s served them on a massive platter of parental judgement.

The post is not about his restaurant – it’s about what he think parents should do and how they should parent. And that’s why it’s left me with a strange taste in my mouth.

Yilmaz wrote, “If you aren’t coming to PAZAR as a collective to enjoy the food and interact, engage, converse, laugh, cry, debate and experience then please, please go elsewhere or stay home.”

Whoa. Talk about a meal with a large side of sanctimony. I’d much prefer fries with that.

Of course, Australia is a free country, and this restaurant can, within the law, dictate their terms of entry.

The owner obviously feels quite passionately about what his establishment can offer… and has a particular clientele in mind. That’s cool.

But it undeniably feels very judgemental – because it absolutely is.

As a mum of an 11-year-old who frequents restaurants on a regular/too often basis, I know there’s already enough pressure on parents to appear to the public as though they’re engaging with their beloved offspring in a constructive and healthy way… when all they really want to do is have a little chat and then a meal in peace, however that’s achieved – with books, or iPads, or whatever activity.

And has the owner thought of the families who have kids with needs which rely on activities to help them feel safe and calm during meal times (and yes, I am speaking from experience as my best friend’s daughter is one of those kids)? No, probably not.

The restaurant’s colouring book ban especially is problematic for me, because my son and I have always used restaurants to do one book-based activity in particular.

LISTEN: Zoe Marshall shares her advice for dealing with strangers on Mamamia’s podcast for new parents, The Baby Bubble.

A couple of nights a week, I collect my kid from after-care and we swing by our favourite sushi joint or grab a steak somewhere. My son always brings some of his homework with him to the table. It might be reading to me, or the spelling list he has to write out, or showing me what’s happening on Google Classroom on his device – all while we’re waiting for our food. We constructively use that time.

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Do I get to see what he’s been up to in class? Yes.

Does the situation also mean he shares with me what happened in that lesson? Also yes.

So do I see this as a time I am fully engaged with my child, before we delve into silence when the food’s served and we’re stuffing our mouths? Totally.

Could we do any of this if we went to the Pazar Food Collective? Apparently not.

It feels that as parents, we’re damned if we do, and we’re damned if we don’t.

The owner says in his post that it’s acceptable to take photos of his food for social media, and then it’s phones away. No – it’s too much scrutiny. How could anyone feel comfortable like that?

To put it bluntly, I don’t want to be so personally dictated to when I’m paying to enjoy what should be an enjoyable and relaxing service.

I’m 42.5 years old. The only person I’ll suffer a lecture from is my mother – and only because listening to her is the very least I can do after all the crap I’ve put her through.

As one woman said in the comments of  the post, “I think you should concentrate on delivering great food and let parents parent…I love your food but not so much your dictatorship.”

What do you think of the colouring book and activities ban this restaurant has imposed? Tell us in the comments below.

If you’d like to hear more from Nama Winston, see her stories here, and subscribe to her weekly Mamamia Parents newsletter here.

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