It’s no surprise that most people choose to eat out as a matter of convenience, enjoyment or necessity, anticipating an overall pleasant dining environment. They expect a relaxing atmosphere when they sit down to order, eat and pay for their brief experience.
When a family visits a restaurant and their child begins to scream uncontrollably, “the customer is always right” rule flies out the door. It’s ultimately up to the parent(s) to manage their child’s behavior. While it’s not fair to assume every child will be disruptive, it’s a common fear for many restaurant guests to flinch when they see a family of 6, with multiple young children, being seated at the next table. The feeling may be similar to watching a rambunctious 4 year old amble down the aisle of an airplane, holding the hand of his tentative mother. You have compassion, yet secretly hope they find a comfortable seat a few rows back!
This week’s social media frenzy was over a restaurant owner who screamed at a toddler for… SCREAMING! According to information offered online, the parents apparently didn’t do much to squelch the child’s tantrum and fellow diners were visibly disturbed. There are dining etiquette rules for both sides of the restaurant table, and it seems that a few faux pas were made on each end of the adult camp.
Here are some mannerly tips for those out to eat with a small child, along with a few suggestions for restaurant owners faced with a similar situation.
- Pay attention to your child. It’s obvious when your child is wailing in pain, you tend to them immediately. The same attention should be rendered when they are tired, frustrated, or you are not giving them the help they need or desire. Take a break together and step away from the main dining area, as this will allow your child to calm down and also shows respect to fellow diners.
- Attend to your child’s outburst privately. In a restaurant, when the tantrum persists longer than a few minutes, it’s time to request a “to go” bag instead of making multiple idle threats. Though having to cut the meal short is a disappointment, sometimes it’s best for all involved.
- Be realistic. Don’t expect a tired child to sit still or behave beyond what is reasonable for their age level. If you anticipate a problem, consider asking a family member to babysit for a few hours or schedule dining out for a time when you are free to enjoy yourself without worry or stress. It’s not your child’s fault that you are planning an outing during their nap or well beyond their bedtime.
- Be respectful of the servers. A certain amount of mess is common when feeding a young child. Leaving mounds of banana and the entire area littered with food debris is not considerate to those that must trudge through the slippery, gooey mess. If you wouldn’t do it in someone’s home, don’t give yourself a pass at a restaurant.
- Thank the management for their patience. If your child has made quite the scene (and I speak from personal experience!), don’t forget to tip accordingly and thank the hostess as you leave for their understanding. It’s a nice way of acknowledging the uncomfortable predicament.
- Never, under any circumstances, scream at a child. The reaction of the restaurant owner, including her use of profanity in the restaurant and on social media, was clearly out of line. There seemed to be a problem with both the behavior of the parents who allowed the scene to go on for too long, inconsiderate of fellow diners, and the owner who lost her cool and credibility in the process.
- Keep your composure. Before approaching the family, ask yourself, “What will the outcome be if I lose my temper in front of the rest of my patrons?” The answer could realistically be a media firestorm, some short term notoriety, a handful of supporters, and the backlash of countless lost customers. In any situation, there is no room for a belligerent, out of control boss. As a restaurant owner, if you feel there may be a physical confrontation, or you are getting push back with verbal threats, call the authorities and let them deal with it. The real issue is not about the screaming toddler, but how the situation will be handled by the adults involved.
- Offer to move the family to a private area. While you may run the risk of offending the family, this lets them know you are willing to assist with the situation. You have a responsibility to all of your guests and proposing a table change may motivate the family to address the issue or wrap up their visit.
- Make it a priority to get the food out in a timely manner. While it’s not the responsibility of the restaurant to push other orders aside to feed a family with an unruly child, it’s in management’s best interest to get the family fed and on their way in an expedient fashion. Sometimes good judgment means you cook the $5.00 burger before the $30.00 steak.
- Consider providing a food voucher. An owner that says, “I’m sorry you are having a difficult time this morning; may I offer you a plate to go, and a discount off your next visit?” is really saying, “You are welcome back again.” The effort of goodwill may be remembered and appreciated.
For more of my tips, check out my article, Social Media Manners: Responding to Online Customer Complaints, on The Huffington Post.