NEWS

Maine diner owner's rebuke sparks debate on parenting in restaurants

07/25/2015 11:00 EDT | Updated 07/25/2016 05:59 EDT
A Maine restaurant owner who admitted to yelling at a toddler for crying in her diner has ignited a debate on how both parents and restaurant staff should deal with misbehaving children.

Darla Neugebauer, who owns Marcy's Diner in Portland, Maine, told local news station WCSH 6 that the young girl's parents had ordered three pancakes and then didn't feed them to her, causing her to cry for 40 minutes.

"Life's full of choices and you've got to live with all of them," Neugebauer said. "I chose to yell at the kid and made her shut up, which made me happy, it made my staff happy, it made the other 75 people in the restaurant happy."

The incident became public after an exchange between the child's mother Tara Carson and Neugebauer on the diner's Facebook page. The exchange has now been deleted.

Carson wrote a review on the page which said, "I had the worst experience at this establishment. The owner is an absolute lunatic and screamed in the face of my almost 2 year old child bc [sic] she was crying."

The upset mother told WCSH 6 that her child was crying — not screaming — and that it was only for a few minutes.

Neugebauer replied to Carson's review with an expletive-laden post, calling the toddler a "beast" and  "monster."

The incident has brought out many different opinions on how both parents and restaurant owners should behave in these kinds of circumstances.

On the Coast food columnist Anya Levykh and B.C. Restaurant Association president Ian Tostenson joinedBC Almanac's Michelle Eliot to discuss what parents and restaurant staff can do.

1. Restaurants should be prepared

Tostenson said that restaurants that cater to families usually have plans in place to keep little ones entertained.

"Our responsibility as an industry is to do the very best we can to accommodate that," he said.

"Restaurants that are children-friendly...they'll bring the food quickly, they'll have some carrot sticks to entertain them, or something to write on. They get that children need a diversion."

2. Parents must discipline children

Levykh said she sets a limit for how long her child is allowed to cause a disturbance.

"If I can't calm her down in thirty seconds, I leave. That's it," she said.

"Taking your child outside for a few minutes can help with that to get them to calm down. If that doesn't work you leave for good.

"You have to set the boundaries for your kids in public spaces where they are interacting or in the presence of others, and it's never too early to start."

3. If parents don't control their children...

Levykh said that the onus should be on the parents of misbehaving children, but if they aren't taking any action, then restaurant management should step in on behalf of the other patrons.

"While I think that restaurant owner was a bit extreme, I think she was right to take some action, it was just possibly not the most correct action."

Tostenson agreed that restaurants have a responsibility to provide patrons with an enjoyable environment — but said staff should be empathetic when dealing with parents whose children are misbehaving.

"The first approach should be, 'How can we help?'," he said.

But if the problem persists restaurants have to take action so that other patrons can enjoy their experience.

"You'll eventually get to a place where … you'll have to ask the parent to leave, 'Here's a dessert,' or, 'Here's a gift certificate, come back next time.'"

To hear the full interview click on the audio labelled: Handling misbehaving children in restaurants

MORE:cbcNews