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‘No children please’ restaurant provokes anger in French tourist town

The three terse words on the door of an Alsace restaurant have stirred up a storm in the half-timbered town of Ribeauvillé

Ribeauvillé village with its colourful traditional half-timbered houses. The Winstub Zum Pfifferhus is on the right Pic: elitravo / Shutterstock

If any publicity is good publicity, as the saying goes, then a restaurant in the heart of Alsace has stumbled across an ingenious, if controversial, way of marketing itself. On its door was a simple notice: “Pas d’enfants - merci.”

But the handwritten sign has provoked a storm on social media and now the owner of the picture postcard, half-timbered Winstub Zum Pfifferhus has taken it down.

On Sunday December 4, after going round the Christmas market in Ribeauvillé, a family queued for half an hour in the winter chill. But when they finally got through the door they were turned away by the waitress because of their four-year-old girl.  

"My granddaughter was in tears, the whole family was in shock,” a grandmother from Strasbourg told Les Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace newspaper. She was visiting the market in the heart of the scenic Route des Vin in Alsace with her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter. “We hadn't seen the sign on the door.

“When someone affects my children or my granddaughter, I get my claws out," said Chantal Ruh. "I called the gendarmes present at the market, but they told me that the case would be referred to the prosecutor's office, that it would take a long time and that the complaint would probably be dismissed," she added.

She then called the anti-fraud unit, the authority against discrimination of children, the Umih (Union of trades and industries of the hotel industry), the tourist office and finally resorted to Facebook, from where her scorn went viral.

A former restaurateur, she says she is sensitive to the problem. "I set up a children's corner to keep them occupied. Often, in a restaurant, we are more bothered by adults who speak very loudly. It's really a lame excuse."

She is determined to push the matter further. "I'm not an aggressive person by any means… All I want is for the restaurant owner to get a fine."

‘We don’t hate children’

Bénédicte Maistermann, 48, who with her partner Roland Langer, 55, is owner of the Pfifferhus, was -- up to a point – in agreement: "Fair enough, I shouldn't have put that sign on the door. 

“But we really don't hate children, far from it. We allow them into our tiny 30-seat restaurant. We just refuse those who are unbearable,” she told The Connexion. “We put the sign up because people queue to have a place in our tiny restaurant, sometimes for an hour or more.

“We simply don’t want children queueing in the freezing cold only to find that there aren’t enough places to sit down. For that reason we don’t take groups. The sign was there to avoid this. If they can’t read, that’s their problem.”

The sign has since been removed.

The restaurant is generally regarded as doing a good job by locals and visitors alike, and is renowned for its welcome. 

The Pfifferhus – which is also a winstub or bar serving local Alsace wines – is highly rated, featuring in the Gault & Millau, Michelin and Pudlowski guides. It has received letters of support in the region, from as far away as the Munster valley.

“We recently entertained a group of disabled children for a day of fun and fed them and took them to a farm. The child whose grandmother complained stormed into the restaurant and ran over the furniture in muddy boots.

‘Spoilt brats who behave like they think they’re royalty’

"There was a huge crowd that weekend, not far from 25,000 people,” said Ms Maistermann, who is herself a mother of four. "We offer à la carte dishes and not just a menu, even during the Christmas market. We do our job with love but we're tired of being stepped on.

"Far too many kids are super rude. They behave like spoilt brats who think they’re royalty. They touch everything, scream, run, ruin our Christmas decorations, put their dirty shoes on the benches. 

“One little girl even bit into a glass to try to break it. The parents told us that it was our fault because our glasses were not of good quality. When we make remarks to the parents, they insult us.

"We won't put the sign back up, but we'll continue to turn away rude children."

But Jean-Jacques Better, president of Umih 68, the hotel workers union for the Haut-Rhin department, had some strong words on the matter. "This is unlawful and is an affront to the profession. The ban is scandalous, shameful and unworthy of a professional," he told Les Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace.

‘We can ban dogs, but not children’

In his capacity as head of the local union – of which the Pfifferhus is not a member – Mr Better, even suggests that the restaurant should be closed and takes comfort in the fact that there are very few establishments in practice that do this. "We can ban dogs, not children!"

The law says that barring access for a discriminatory reason (religion, race, state of health, morals...) "or because of the presence of children" is illegal. "Legally, it is forbidden to refuse service to a customer unless there is a legitimate reason," says Murielle Gasnier, a legal expert at UFC-Que Choisir consumer organisation.

The restaurant owner can only close his door to visitors if the restaurant is full, if it is exceptionally closed or if it is used for a specific event. Anyone who violates this rule commits a criminal offence and is liable to a minimum of three years in prison and/or a €45,000 fine.

The tourist office of the Ribeauvillé and Riquewihr region said that the affixing of such a sign was, as far as they knew, a one-off. "Until now, we have never seen anything like this from our restaurateurs.

“This type of message harms the profession and the territory. We would like to point out that many restaurant owners in the Ribeauvillé and Riquewihr area offer practical equipment for children such as high chairs, booster seats and changing mats.” 

Some places also provide children with games or pencils.

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