The playroom at the Black Mocha Cafe in the northern Sydney suburb of Turramurra looked like paradise for kids, with a Thomas the Tank Engine table covered in track and trains, Charlie and Lola dolls amid plenty of plush toys, and lots of colourful games to stimulate young minds.
Then there were the change tables and other family friendly touches such as the kid’s menu.
But owners John and Claudette Osterberg have been forced to close it because some parents were letting their children run riot, breaking the toys, tearing up the books and drawing on the walls. Some parents would even leave dirty nappies in the playroom or on top of dining tables.
The decision has sparked a now all too predictable backlash, alongside waves of support for the pair, but John Osterberg, a father of two and industry veteran, told Business Insider he was “heartbroken” about their decision.
“We wanted to create the kind of café we wanted when our kids were young,” he said. “So it was very, very difficult decision to close it.”
The pair broke the news to customers via Facebook this week, citing a range of poor behaviours by both the children and parents, from kids using the furniture as trampolines, to stealing food from the plates of other customers and parents bringing in takeaway food and using cushions as plates.
“This behaviour is upsetting the rest of the customers and staff. It is also a disgusting spectacle and we are sorry that innocent café patrons have to witness it. As a result the café will no longer welcome children and parents who display deplorable manners,” they wrote.
“Our café was designed with families in mind unfortunately we have been forced to make a decision that is heartbreaking for both sides.”
Osterberg told Business Insider that children were still welcome, but “a few bad apples” had spoiled it for everyone else.
“The vast majority of our regular of customers were wonderful, but a few felt that they had a licence to let their kids run riot,” he said.
“We tried to talk to the parents but they would turn around and abuse you. I know of several cafés in Sydney who’ve had similar experiences.”
Bad behaviour and abuse from the parents is not new. Earlier this year, Queensland chef Liam Flynn, banned children under seven from his restaurant after a run-in with a mother who told him to “f**k off” when he asked her to take a crying two-year-old child outside.
The restaurant did its best trade in 14 years a week after the ban was announced.
And 12 months ago, a Newcastle café owner and single mother was deluged with abuse after taking to Facebook to express her frustration with children who “run rampant, and annoy other customers”, saying her place was not child-friendly unless the kids were well behaved.
John Osterberg said he’d learned some surprising lessons from the experiment with the playroom, including the fact that two screaming children could empty a place in 15 minutes.
“I didn’t believe it until I saw it for the first time myself,” he said.
The other surprise was how strong the support for their decision has been.
“I was shocked by how many of our old customers said they were coming back now. It made me wonder how many we’d lost when all we wanted to do was support parents.
“And we have been inundated with support. We couldn’t believe the support from all over Australia.”
They’re not banning children, just obnoxious, uncontrolled ones – and their parents.
“We still have a kids’ menu and books for them to read, but we have to be stronger with the behaviour expected in normal society,” Osterberg said.
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