A child dying in an Atlanta restaurant should never have happened

It’s Derby Week, and I should be writing a pithy column about how to score the best reservation and where to get the best box lunch to take with you to the track. I should be schooling you on how to sneak your liquor into the infield, via fake breast implants and/or false-bottom cooler magic.

However: a 5-year-old child died in an Atlanta restaurant recently. The child and his parents, vacationing from a nearby state, came in for a late lunch. The restaurant they chose for their meal famously gives a 360-degree, revolving, panoramic view of the city from its perch on the penultimate floor of a tower hotel.

We have a revolving restaurant in Louisville. Many years ago I dined there with a friend and set my purse down by my feet when we were seated. Half an hour later, I realized my purse was missing, and I freaked out, only to have a server calmly walk across the dining room and retrieve it from underneath someone else’s table — I’d set it on the non-moving ledge while the dining room floor spun away. It’s a funny story I’ve dined out on for years, but it doesn’t seem so funny this week.

By all accounts, the little boy was only out of sight for a few moments. There are many articles claiming the kid was literally only 4 or 5 feet away from his parents when he somehow got wedged in the 4-inch space between the revolving floor and the stationary rim of the dining room. Hold a finger out; your index finger is probably about four inches long. The revolving floor mechanism had a built-in emergency feature that was supposed to stop the revolution instantly when any resistance was detected. And it did eventually stop, at which point employees and other diners made heroic efforts to free the child, which they finally did. But it was too late. This child died soon after at the hospital he was transported to by emergency services.

Many thousands of internet comments on news stories have weighed in on who is at fault for this tragedy. Some blame the mechanical engineers who designed the revolving floor system. Four inches seems like a pretty big gap that any munchkin determined enough could get their hand into. Some are mad that the emergency stop feature perhaps didn’t stop soon enough to save the child’s life.

Some blame the parents.

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There are hundreds of articles each year about whether and when children should be brought to restaurants. “When they can behave properly,” say some. Others ask, “How can you teach children how to have public dining manners if you don’t bring them out in public to eat?”

I am childless. I am firmly in the camp of “don’t bring them to a restaurant until you’re pretty sure they can behave,” but I get a lot of shit from my mom and dad friends for this stance. Naturally, it depends on the restaurant and level of service. If they’re going to go wild at Chuck E. Cheese’s, probably nobody will look askance. But even at Chuck E. Cheese’s it can be dangerous to let your kids do a walkabout, even if they are not running amok.

Imagine you look away for a few moments and your child wanders into a restaurant kitchen — a place chock full of sharp knives and hot pots of steaming liquid. Or picture your kid just running a few feet from your table and colliding with the knees of a server carrying a tray full of beverages in breakable glassware and plates filled with screaming hot entrées.

I have the utmost sympathy for the parents who lost their child in this freak accident. They’ll probably never wake another morning of their entire lives without thinking what they could have done to avoid it. The unfortunate truth is, they could have done something to avoid it — they could have kept their child at their table, or taken him to the restroom or the lobby if he was so insistent upon getting up.

I know parents want their children to have a spectrum of experiences during their development. I get it. Please teach them that if you go out to eat, part of the experience is that they must stay seated and never, ever be out of eyeshot. If they can’t manage that, then perhaps you need to keep them at home, or in the loving care of a child sitter, when you want to dine out yourselves. •

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, Café Lou Lou, Marketplace @ Theater Square, Fontleroy’s and Harvest.

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