High chair confidential

High chair safety is an afterthought at many area restaurants

John Fry, 3, sits in a high chair with his family members during lunch at Silver Peak.

John Fry, 3, sits in a high chair with his family members during lunch at Silver Peak.

Photo By amy beck

There’s a good chance that when a parent walks into a Reno restaurant with an infant or toddler, the high chair they’re given will be dirty, have a broken safety clasp, or both. And there is no clear regulation to ensure otherwise.

A random sampling of 10 local restaurants found that 40 percent of high chairs given to a baby customer had a broken clasp, and 30 percent of those high chairs were dirty. These clasps help keep squirmy children from wriggling out of their chairs and falling. The perceived “niceness” of a restaurant didn’t seem to affect the condition of the high chair—gourmet restaurants with otherwise impeccable food, service and cleanliness had dirty and/or broken high chairs. Perhaps that’s because they don’t tend to cater to families with babies. Most family-friendly restaurants did have clean and functioning high chairs. However, one pizza place popular with families gave a baby a high chair with a broken clasp.

Regarding the priority given to their high chairs, the server of that establishment said, “We have a lot of families come in with little children and babies. We do make sure that they are not broken.” When told that they gave a customer a broken high chair, she said, “Oh. Normally, if it was broken, someone would come notify the right person or manager.” She said high chair maintenance was not part of staff training.

Another server at a nice breakfast café, when notified of their broken clasp, laughed it off, saying, “Oh, we fix them, and the kids just break them again.”

Yet another breakfast bistro—with excellent food, service and cleanliness—had one high chair, and it had a broken clasp. The server was notified. Three weeks later, it was still broken.

Under inspection

One might think the condition of high chairs would be part of a general health inspection.

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“It’s not part of our general inspection,” said Washoe County Health Department spokesperson Phil Ulibarri. “When we go in and inspect a restaurant, we’re usually concerned about the kitchen area and how food is prepared and served.” If a food poisoning outbreak occurred, the health department would require tables and high chairs to be scrubbed down as part of an overall restaurant clean-up process. And Ulibarri said that if a customer were to complain about dirty high chairs or tables in a restaurant, they would look into that. However, broken safety straps on high chairs never fall under the health department’s purview. It’s a safety thing, not a food thing.

Well, then maybe the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates it.

“We don’t,” said OSHA district manager Chris Davis. “We strictly work on the employee-employer relationship. … We don’t have jurisdiction on kids or parents bringing them there. We don’t have any dog in the fight.”

So the proper storage of linens is to be a regulated priority, while high chairs remain an afterthought.

“I don’t think we even have to have high chairs,” said Silver Peak co-owner Trent Schmidt. All of the high chairs at his Sierra Street location were clean and functional. (Silver Peak’s other locations were not surveyed.) “It’s something we do for the customer.” Schmidt tells employees to alert management and take the high chair off the floor when there’s a broken safety clasp. Then he’ll go to REI and get a replacement strap. He thinks he may be more attuned to protecting “the little guys” in their high chairs because he’s a father himself and wants families to feel welcome at his restaurants.

But there’s another reason for restaurants to maintain their high chairs.

“It’s called negligence law,” said Reno personal injury attorney Laurie Yott. “There would be potential liability if a restaurant provided defective baby equipment and a baby fell out of a high chair with a broken strap and was injured due to that.”

So despite a lack of agency regulations about high chairs, Yott said restaurants still have a responsibility to provide a reasonably safe environment, from the food to the premises.

Before parents and their squirmy children reach that point, however, they’re advised to ask their server to clean or replace their high chair if needed.

“You would think as a restaurant, from a marketing perspective, you’d want everything you put out to customers to be top quality,” said Ulibarri.