Are some cultures more kid-friendly than others?

Out for Lao food in Sydney. Pic: Liz Ledden.

Out for Lao food in Sydney. Pic: Liz Ledden.

As someone who likes to eat and drink out – a lot – it was inevitable that when kids came along they’d be joining in the fun.  Baby number one soon got to know Bangkok’s assorted eating spots, albeit while mostly asleep, and as a toddler ran amok in Saigon’s restaurants. Well-meaning staff would pull her back from the edge of enticing turtle ponds and others knew her by name and even her regular order. Staff were super friendly to the kids and we felt welcome everywhere, from cheap and cheerful local restaurants to higher end places, and even cool cocktail bars (at family o’clock I mean!).

Now living in Australia, cafes and restaurants are still on the agenda for both our girls, but time and experience has shaped where we take them, and when. The anything goes mentality of much of Southeast Asia does not always apply in Australia – while some places are decidedly kid-friendly with toys, chalkboards and babyccinos on tap, others seem not so enamoured of small people. Reluctant service, withering looks and ‘too cool for school’ attitudes are the hallmarks of the un-family friendly places we’ve encountered, though thankfully, rarely. While I realise certain places at certain times are off limits (and I sometimes enjoy these too, kid-free), I’m talking cafes (in the day, in suburbs full of kids) that should know better.

We most often head to Asian eateries, as we know the kids will always be welcome. Noisy, crowded yum cha restaurants are always a winner, but it’s small, friendly, family-run Vietnamese and Thai places that always seem to accept the kids with open arms. Italian, Lebanese and other Middle Eastern places have also been really accommodating, which makes me wonder, why are these places so kid-friendly and others, not so much? Is it that in some cultures, there is more importance placed on extended family, and a tendency to include kids in social events? Has something been lost along the way in some Western cultures when it comes to tolerating kids in public places?

I don’t know the answer to this, but I do know I’ll continue to take my kids out and about to experience different tastes, cuisines and cultures, and gravitate to the places I know they’ll be happily accepted.


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About the author

Liz Ledden
Liz is a freelance writer, blogger and mum to two little girls based in Sydney, Australia. She has also lived in Vietnam, Cambodia and Canada, eloped in Paris and given birth in Bangkok. Her passions include food, travel and the written word.
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  • Good question. My experience is that Turkey is more child friendly in general than the UK. Some restaurants in the UK children are not welcome at all, whereas here in Turkey I haven’t yet seen a place that didn’t welcome the baby with open arms. The other night we went out for a meal, and the owner of the restaurant entertained our baby and even fed her so that we could enjoy our meal.

    Here (and also I noticed the same thing in Spain and Italy) it’s much more common to take babies and children out with the family in the evening. In the UK most babies are in bed after 7pm!

  • Yes I’ve heard Turkey is amazingly family-friendly, I really want to go. Some people take their young kids out at night in Sydney but it’s usually really early, like between 5 and 7pm. It’s fun going to a local Vietnamese restaurant or similar and most of the customers have kids with them, it makes you feel more comfortable that you’re not annoying other diners.

  • My ds has grown up in Turkey. When he was little the staff of the restaurants always took him away and played with him in the little area set up for kids. I’ve even had staff in a grocery store take him off for a tour while I shopped.

    However, I will say that when my ds was little Turkey was not the most friendly place for strollers and finding a place to change a dirty diaper. I think this is because most mothers tend to leave their children at home with a family member or housekeeper when shopping.

  • Italy is very child friendly. There are no limitations of place and time of the day to bring your children with you. And you can take them where they serve alcoholic drinks too: as minors they are simply under your responsibility.

  • Hi Ann – It seems the places that are the most child ‘un’ friendly in terms of physical things (change tables etc.) often compensate in other ways (friendly service, staff playing with the kids etc.). It was the same in Vietnam – hardly any places had change tables in the bathrooms and it was hit and miss whether high chairs were available, but kids were always made to feel welcome and staff were so good with them. I think if I had a choice between facilities and good service/friendly treatment I’d definitely choose the customer service and deal with the lack of other stuff, do you agree?!

    Gloria – Italy’s so great, I love that there’s such a relaxed, family-friendly culture. And maybe because kids in Italy are included in so many social gatherings, meals out etc. they tend to be less fussy eaters too (just to generalise, I mean I’ve observed this in Italian people I’ve encountered ;-) .

  • I just came across your post. I am Romanian, I live in Canada, in Toronto. The city is ethnically diverse, fairly kid-friendly with lots of playgrounds, urban neighbourhoods with young families, and you can choose to go ethnic restaurants where kids are totally welcome, plus there are other kid-friendly restaurants. But still as an overall I find the English culture doesn’t compare with other cultures (Portuguese, Italian, Middle East, Romanian, Brazilian, Asian etc) in terms of how easily accepted kids are in all domains of life, including fancy restaurants. From my experience I’d say the cultures that are great to do business in (well structured, efficient services, promptness etc) are the ones who separate kids from the rest of adult life. There are dedicated kid-friendly restaurants, interior playgrounds where all amenities are there, but in other place the fun and chaos kids bring is not so endeared. With small kids I miss the more open, fluid cultures.