There is a saying, “Your freedom to be you does not trump my freedom to be free of you,” which mimics the famous legal adage, “Your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose.”
Both came to mind after I received many emails in response to my column last week, “Screaming is rarely appetizing.” In it I told the story of the diner owner in Maine who yelled at a couple and their child, telling them to leave after their child (admittedly) screamed for an extended period of time.
Here are some of the responses, slightly edited for grammar and style:
“Couldn’t have said it better myself. If an adult customer is causing a disturbance, we ask them to leave. Same for the parents of a misbehaving child. Usually it is not the kid’s fault. Parents these days seem to be letting their kids grow up, instead of raising them.” — Sean, a Marin restaurateur
“Recently, I was in a restaurant with my 14-year-old daughter. At a nearby table a child around 4, 5 years old was misbehaving rather badly and noisily. The parents weren’t doing anything about it. My daughter looked at me and asked if I remembered the time I held my hand over her mouth when she was that age. I replied that I did (and inwardly remembered the guilt). She then said, ‘Daddy, I’m really glad you did that. I remember it to this day and it taught me a really important lesson about behaving in a restaurant that I never forgot. I just wish those people would do the same thing to their kid!’ Sometimes, what you thought were your worst moments as a parent, turn out to have been the most instructive.” — Keith
“In the summer I often eat outdoors in San Anselmo. I don’t get why people let their kids run around in the parking lot and past my table when there’s a park across the street. But more, I don’t get why the owner allows it.” — Michael
“I never found spending time in the bathroom or following [my children] around outside [a restaurant] to be relaxing, and I remember having to take our breakfast to go when my kids were young, a box of cold eggs and toast at home seemed pointless. My husband and I avoiding taking them to sit-down restaurants for about 10 years. My sister thought [because of that] my children would never learn how to behave properly. Surprisingly, when they were 13 and 11, we were able to finally go out and have a good time. It was we — the parents — who needed to learn how to behave when the kids were young. And not take them to certain environments where they could create a disturbance whenever possible.” — Stephanie
“I cannot say, “How true!” enough. I find myself wanting more and more to tell people something directly when I am dining regarding bad behavior by their children being displayed while I am trying to enjoy a nice meal out after a long week. I have seen it on the ferry too many times to count. Let your child scream for 30 minutes while the rest of us are trying to download the day and relax. Ugh.” — Mary
“Why do parents think that they can ram their screaming, rude little brats down the public’s throats? If your child is disturbing a whole restaurant or store or other event, it is your responsibility to remove that child. Hooray to the restaurant owner, Darla Neugebauer, for having the courage to tell the child to be quiet and to tell the parents to leave. There is an adage that ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ Thank goodness that some of the villagers are finally speaking out about unruly children and their parents. This bad behavior from children has been allowed to continue and to exacerbate for too many years. Thank you again for speaking the truth.” — Pamela
As restaurant employees, we sometimes get put into an awkward position. The customer is always right is a tough idea to get around, but sometimes it is necessary to call people on their baloney. However, remember this — those people are not going to appreciate it. The other 75 people present, however, will. Just ask Darla Neugebauer.
Meanwhile the parents of that screaming child in Maine still didn’t apologize; instead they keep trying to justify their behavior. They might want to reconsider, because I hear the villagers are getting restless. And we all know what that means.