Please Sedate Your Child... or Leave the Restaurant.

I work part-time as a hostess for a popular, up-scale breakfast restaurant. Most days, I sincerely enjoy my job. Unlike the soulless retail jobs I worked for years, hostessing is an opportunity to connect with people the people I serve. I like to satisfy patrons with a sunny window-seat on an early morning, with a smile and a cheery "have a wonderful day."

Sometimes, people make my job difficult. I take it with a smile and a grain of salt as often as I can. Due to the prices, location, and atmosphere of the restaurant, we attract hoitie-toities in droves. I glance at the women's 3 1/2 carat diamonds and sigh, but as long as they are nice and leave my waitresses a decent tip, I don't resent them.

Today, a hoitie-toitie and her family came in for breakfast, Ralph Lauren-clad toddlers in tow. I sat their party of 9 in the middle of the restaurant per their request and left them to dine in happiness. Not 10 minutes later, hoitie-toitie's two-year-old began screaming at the top of her lungs. It was worse than the loudest microphone going haywire in the smallest auditorium. The little angel's face turned plum purple in her anger, and her screams reverberated through the restaurant for all to hear. The bustle of activity halted and as everyone dropped their utensils, menus and conversations to plug the ears against the noise. Hoitie-toitie clapped her hand over little angel's face, and to our relief she stopped. After a few minutes, she began squalling again.

When patrons began ordering their food to go in order to escape the noise, my manager approached the woman and asked her to remove her child from the dining area because she was "annoying the customers and no one wants to be around it." That is when the real screaming began. Hoitie-toitie and her family stormed out of the restaurant mid-meal (they did pay their bill, thank goodness).

Hours later, having seated many happy and day-redeeming diners since the incident, we were dismayed to see hoitie-toitie walk back in the door. She slapped a thick, white envelope on the counter and asked for the owner. Our owner is currently in Greece mourning the death of his father, who passed early this week. My manager came to meet her at the register. Hoitie-toitie had apparently returned for round two of the argument and informed us that the thick,white envelope enclosed a copy of a letter she had sent to the Daily Herald expressing the nature of her visit to our restaurant today. She ended her monologue by explaining that while her angel may have been unruly this morning, she takes her brood out to eat all the time, and in similar situations other waiters and managers have brought the child candy or crayons or toys to distract her, and how hard would it have been for my manager to do the same instead of insulting her family and ruining their outing?

My manager nodded and apologized and promised to inform our owner of the incident, and the woman left with a domineering smile.

What I wish I could have said, were it not for my job, is this:
It is not anyone else's job to entertain, distract, discipline, or sedate your child. Our restaurant seats over 200 people, and on this Sunday morning, like most, it was filled to its capacity with people who were there to enjoy a quiet morning with their family and friends, full of good food and good conversation. YOU ruined it for them. If anyone had a right to complain at my manager, it was the other diners and not you. I agree that my manager should have used a more courteous and respectful choice of words, but she is trying to run a business.
Today, I was once again struck with the realization of how satisfaction-driven our society is. We complain for booths instead of tables, window seats instead of aisle seats, a new cup of coffee because this one tastes old, and we expect a restaurant full of people to shut-up and deal while our child screams for 45 minutes.

It is an age-old complaint. "We're too consumer-driven. We're too picky. There are starving people in China who would love a meal, let alone the best seat in the house."

I do my job. I treat each patron, wealthy or scraping-by, equally. Everyone deserves a delicious breakfast and kind service. I try not to question it too often, but their are people and circumstances that make me wonder: Should the customer always be right? 

When do we have the right to say, "Please take your bad parenting and your atrocious, self-indulgent attitude somewhere else?"


alynwin said...

Very good thoughts Bethany. I would have had to bite my tongue till it bled not to yell at a person like so.. but those people show us how not to treat people. Thanks for the reminder.

Anonymous said...

that was a great story! i remember when i was in high school i worked at a culvers fast food restaurant. if a male customer would start getting loud and angry they would send me in. i was 6'1" and 235lbs with long black hair. they can yell at an 18 year old girl manager but when a big scary looking guy steps in, all of a sudden they get calm and rational again. well, some of them did.

loud kids in a restaurant are my pet peeve. she payed $10 for that kid's meal. that kid probably caused $100 in lost tips and business. you work at a restaurant where it is your job to make money.

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