In the Marcy’s Diner fracas, everyone was wrong

Eating out with kids

We noshed on roasted carrots and Brussels sprouts in a dark, noisy bistro in Boston this winter.

 

Over the winter, my kids and I traveled to Boston for vacation. While there, we ate everywhere from a quick service burger joint to a dark bistro to Union Oyster House. While Will, 9, and Paige, 7, aren’t perfect, they navigated the nuances of different restaurant settings and menus with grace and ease — even when one menu sounded a lot fancier than it was.

There’s a reason for that: since they were little, they’ve eaten in a variety of establishments, learned about appropriate behavior and practiced how to behave in public. These days, they can eat pretty much anywhere — from a quiet, fancy restaurant, to a busy, noisy one — because they’ve learned and practiced good behavior, and I have rewarded them with more experiences.

But when they were younger and just learning, I was careful about putting them in situations where they could thrive — and never pushing them to eat somewhere they weren’t ready for.

Were there challenges? Of course. What parent hasn’t experienced a child meltdown in public? And when that happened, I’d take my child aside to calm down. If they didn’t, then we’d leave and try again some other time.

After all, as I tell them, eating out is a privilege, not a right. And if they can’t behave in public, they don’t get to exercise that privilege.

As someone who enjoys the experience of eating out, I’ve never wanted my children’s behavior to spoil the enjoyment of anyone else. Furthermore, it’s also important that I enjoy these experiences with them. Teaching them good behavior serves both purposes. Still, ultimately, I don’t feel like our enjoyment is more important than anyone else’s.

So when I heard about the fracas at Marcy’s Diner in Portland this weekend, I gave a little silent cheer for owner Darla Neugebauer, for standing up to patrons who were allegedly unable to stop their two-year-old from screaming and crying through breakfast.

Have you ever been somewhere with a child in the throes of a temper tantrum? It stinks, and it’s unfair to everyone else who has to experience it. Whether you are the parent or an observer, it’s awful — who wants to sit through it?

Since then, I checked out the Marcy’s Diner page on Facebook — before Neugebauer went on a post-deleting spree (she deleted several rants from this weekend, along with a number of other, um, edgy posts) — and found statements like “After your 4 th [sic] attempt to shut her up I asked you to pack up either your rotten child or take the so important pancakes to go.”

Frankly, that was mild compared to a lot of what was written. And it made me wonder: was I jumping to conclusions too quickly?

Personally, I wasn’t at Marcy’s Diner in Portland this weekend when Neugebauer admittedly screamed at the two-year-old, who was screaming and crying in the restaurant. In a television interview the diner owner admitted that she might have used poor judgement but isn’t sorry for doing so.

And to that point, I could get behind her. But when she took to Facebook with profanity-laced posts about a toddler? That’s where she loses my support.

But I wasn’t there. Chances are that you weren’t either. And the truth probably lies somewhere in the murky middle — where the parents weren’t the inattentive buffoons they’ve been portrayed as, and Neugebauer really did go too far.

That said, I think there are a few simple truths to consider:

Neugebauer has a right to expect customers to behave in her establishment — regardless of their age. She has a right to ensure this happens for the comfort and enjoyment of her other customers. And if someone is being disruptive, she has a right to ask them to leave.

These parents, according to Neugebauer, were asked to leave but didn’t.

That said, when Neugebauer posted those multiple (now deleted) Facebook rants about the situation, she was wrong. She was wrong to write them and even more wrong to delete them. In the internet age, deleting things doesn’t make them disappear — it just fuels the fire more.

Note to Neugenauer: My philosophy is to never post something that you wouldn’t want your mama, priest and favorite child in your life to read. Because if you are going to put it out there, you better stand firmly behind it.

At the same time, if the parents really did let their child scream and cry through a meal without hurrying up or removing the child from the situation, they were wrong too. As parents, we have a responsibility to ensure that our kids learn proper behavior. Even if they did try, and were unsuccessful, I think they misstepped in not leaving sooner.

Children learn through experience — even as young as two-years-old. While this child was probably too young for a total teachable moment, removing her from the restaurant and calming her down would have probably been the best move.

Still, we don’t have background on this. Why was the child crying? Were there mitigating factors we should know about? Did they apologize to the server? Was there something happening unseen that made this more challenging in a way that might make others more understanding? When the diner owner asked them to leave initially, what was the tone and context? Who knows …

But beyond both these parents and Neugenauer, there was an ugly underbelly of this situation too.

Facebook and Yelp have been flooded with new reviews both praising and criticizing this restaurant owner based solely on the news reports about this incident. Among them? A one-star review on Facebook that read, “No matter the situation, you do not scream at someone else’s child, nor do you repeatedly refer to a child as a beast or monster,” and a five-star review that read “I’ve never been but the way you stood up to those parents was awesome. I know my parents would eat me alive if i acted like that. Ill make sure to look yall up if I’m ever in the area.”

Anyone who’s reviewing a restaurant but has never eaten there is wrong too.

Reviews for restaurants should be based on actual experiences, not perceptions, assumptions or interpretations of events that you didn’t actually witness and weren’t a part of. If you haven’t actually eaten somewhere — or at least gotten take out — then you are doing a great disservice by reviewing the place.

Note to restaurant owners: When your not-yet-opened restaurant has a half-dozen reviews from your friends, family and chef, it’s in poor taste. Let reviews happen organically … when you are open and actually serving customers food.

In the end, there were a lot of wrong parties to this situation. And maybe that’s what we should really be talking about: how restaurant owners should handle situations like this in person and on social media; what responsibilities parents have for teaching their kids good behavior in public; and why flooding the internet with fake reviews is just plain ridiculous.

Sarah Walker Caron

About Sarah Walker Caron

Sarah Walker Caron is senior features editor for the Bangor Daily News, and resident cook. She writes a cooking column, Maine Course, and is also author of "Grains as Mains: Modern Recipes Using Ancient Grains." Her recipes have appeared in the BDN, Betty Crocker publications, Glamour.com and more.