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Timing is everything.
With tourist season in full swing, my Blue-eyed Yankees Fan volunteered me to whip up a list of close-to-Portland activities for a 7-year-old kid From Away. Last week’s column asked readers for dining recommendations.
Follow-up reporting on those recommendations, and the whole kids-in-restaurants thing, wasn’t something I was excited about. After all, in April we ran a two-part series: “Kids in restaurants are an acquired taste,” April 13, and “More from Pandora’s restaurant toy box,” April 27.
So I was tempted to bag Part 2 this week out of respect for dead horses everywhere.
Then, the pancake batter hit the fan at Marcy’s Diner in Portland.
From radio talk shows and national headlines, everyone has weighed in on the appropriateness of yelling at an out-of-control 2-year-old, and the little darling’s parents. Knowing that even bad PR is better than no PR, the small diner fed the dragon with R-rated Facebook rants, television interviews and, finally, a backhanded, almost apology, of sorts.
Then a text came from a friend: “WWND?” Asking for a translation (sometimes, I’m just not that cool), he spelled it out. “What would Natalie do? You know, about the thing at Marcy’s?”
I’m not King Solomon, but I’ve been to enough kid-cluster restaurant rodeos to know this: It simply isn’t OK to yell directly at a small child or call that child names. I don’t care how weeded you are, or how badly you want to turn a table. It isn’t even OK to yell at the parents.
Line out the door or not, I’d put their ticket on top, crank out the food and box it up to go. Then, I’d present it to them, make a big deal about comping it and would ask them to leave because their child is a disruption to others. The parents are chastised, the other customers are rewarded for their tolerance and the kid gets food. The End.
That said, I get what happened. There’s a bazillion times I would have liked to have yelled at a kid and/or the irresponsible adult. All those times salt shakers were unscrewed and the parents ignored it. Those Sunday mornings when kids would run up and down the stairs, almost killing me when I was carrying overloaded trays of food. The little girl singing at the top of her lungs for half an hour. The kid coloring on the table while Daddy read the WSJ. The utterly disgusting mess people let their kids make of food and drinks.
It’s awful, and even though there are many well-behaved children who are model diners, a screaming child can bring out the worst in the most professional of hospitality people.
What happened at Marcy’s isn’t against the law. But it bugs me in a kaleidoscope-kind of way. Seeing it and living it from both sides (let’s not forget that my daughters, Number One and Carlykardashian, were raised in restaurants), I am reminded of something my former publisher said: “Just because something is OK to do, doesn’t make it OK to do it.”
That pretty much sums up what happened at Marcy’s.
But as we know, it’s tourist season and the infamous drama will make the already busy breakfast spot more desirable. Maybe the bad PR will carry over to adult T-shirts that say, “My kid was horrible at Marcy’s Diner,” and baby onesies printed with, “My parents ignored me at Marcy’s Diner.”
At last glance, the incident is still blowing up the Internet, alongside a case of mistaken identity about name calling at Splashtown in San Antonio, Texas. Apparently, a special needs child was bullied by some employees and the mom took to social media to blast the Texas amusement park, leaving Funtown Splashtown USA in Saco to establish its innocence.
Supporters of the local entertainment venue said it isn’t the Maine way to berate or humiliate a child. Maybe someone should forward the thread to Marcy’s Facebook page. After all, the timing is right.
The list of reader-submitted restaurants for the 7-year-old kid From Away will be here next week. Pinky swear.
Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @natalieladd.