Food & Drink

It's OK for Restaurants to Tell Kids to Shut Up

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By now, you've probably heard about Darla Neugebauer, the owner of Marcy’s Diner in Portland, ME. Neugebauer has been criticized this week after she reportedly yelled at a toddler in her restaurant. Neugebauer allegedly asked the parents to leave, or to take the child outside before yelling.

Of course, the child's parents, Tara and John Carson, left a scathing post on Marcy's Diner's Facebook page.
 

 

I had the worst experience at this establishment. The owner is an absolute lunatic and screamed in the face of my...

Posted by Tara Carson on Saturday, July 18, 2015

  Which led to further hoopla, mostly criticizing Neugebauer for yelling at a child. Clearly, she gave zero shits, as evidenced by an interview with WCSH.

  There are lots of moving parts to this story. How long the child was yelling, how other patrons felt, etc., etc. The basic question is: Is it ever OK for a restaurant to tell someone's kid to shut up?

Yes.

Begin #hot #take zone.

Before anyone rips me, yes, I'm a single, 30-year-old male with no children. It's easy for me to hate. I also just had lunch with my 2-year-old nephew and 5-year-old niece. And I remember going to restaurants with my parents. I'm not a dick. I don't think, anyway.

The Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act protect patrons from being refused service based on discriminatory practices. "Because you're a parent" sounds like a grey area for refusing service. But in fact, kids aren't protected, based on this WSJ article from 2011. Some parent has probably sued a restaurant over this. I'm no lawyer, but that sounds like a silly hill to die on.

I sympathize with the parents in this case if they were trying to get the kid to quiet down in earnest. But if they weren't, well, I don't have sympathy. It boils down to moralizing on whether or not somebody can tell someone else how to raise a child. Nobody wants to be told what to do in America, least of all how to parent. But few things annoy me as much as a child running wild at a restaurant or store. Babies cry on planes, and they can't help it. I accept that. A 3-year-old having a conniption about not being able to watch "Paw Patrol" is different.

And yet, nothing makes me cringe more than seeing a parent berate a child in public. There are no winners here.

A restaurant is a business. In fact, one of the worst kinds of businesses, based on the paltry profit margins and likelihood of failure. It's stressful. So imagine you're already balancing the quotidian realities of not running out of chicken cutlets with getting butts in the booths, and a vacationing child proceeds to yell for the greater part of 15 minutes.

Everyone has a breaking point. If Neugebauer did in fact ask the family to leave, or take the child outside, she's within her bounds to finally tell the kid to shut up. It isn't the most mature approach, but it wasn't illegal (again, I'm not a lawyer).

There's no way for me to know whether Neugebauer tried to politely defuse the situation. Her reactions since suggest that might not be the case, and she won't win friends with a hell-if-I-care attitude. There's also no way to know if the parents were letting the kid run amok, if the child actually had a problem, or if Neugebauer overreacted. This is that whole "two sides to a story" thing you read about in, oh, I dunno, every news story that centers on a disagreement.

But if Neugebauer did her due diligence, and was attempting to please the rest of her patrons, as a business owner, she can go full-on Soup Nazi. That doesn't mean the Carsons, or anybody else for that matter, need to be happy about their kid being told to shut her pie hole. They can walk out, too, and eat their chili and cherry pie elsewhere.

I can only imagine being a patron in that situation. Most of them probably wanted the kid to shut up, too. But they probably didn't want to have someone other than the parents make that happen, either. That's just all kinds of awkward.

In the end, the Carsons won't go back to Marcy’s Diner in Portland, ME. And Darla Neugebauer won't miss their patronage. They'll both look like children in the argument, and three weeks from now, none of us will care about this anymore.

Until the next time a kid starts screaming at an adjacent booth, that is.

Ryan Craggs is Thrillist's Senior News Editor. He used to be a school teacher and actually likes kids. Follow him @ryanrcraggs.