The Restaurant Booth Is Their Ashtray

by admin on January 3, 2014

There is a small family pizza place in the city I live. I have been casual friends of the owners for many years. They do a nice business but with all the chains in town, I know it can be difficult for made from scratch pizza places. They’ve worked hard to build a loyal clientele and have a good reputation. Part of this is providing very good customer service. Unfortunately, I’ve seen first hand what they have had to put up with from one family. I happened in one day accompanied by my two kids (about 7 and 9 at the time) and my friend “Dawn” and her son. When you walk into the restaurant there is a hostess podium about 8 steps in. Along one side there is a divider with a small section of tables and a long booth. You can’t really see the booth area until you are at the podium. We gave our name and waited for a table to open up.

That’s when we noticed The Family at the booth. The Family was made up of a 30 something couple and twin boys probably around 3 or 4. They were attractive and middle class in appearance and, as I would come to find out, the husband was a local attorney. My friend Dawn had actually grown up in the same small town as the husband so she knew him slightly. I point this out only to make it clear that we knew that at least the husband wasn’t raised by wolves. You would have guessed differently if you had seen the wrack and ruin they had left in their wake. The floor under their table was covered with food, much of which was squished into the carpet. Ketchup and sauce smeared everywhere. Plastic kids drinking cups were on the ground, lids half on. Napkins, straws, and more food littered the table. The worst crazy fast food kids birthday party I have ever attended couldn’t hold a candle to the mess made by these two terrors and their clueless “parents.” I have never seen anything like it. While The Family was packing up to leave and I was picking up my jaw from the floor the staff stepped in. It took 8-10 minutes for 3-4 staff people to clean up this small booth area. They went over the carpet with a carpet sweeper at least 3 times. Two servers cleared the table and repeatedly wiped everything down; numerous trips to the trash. Meanwhile, other patrons waited to be seated. Diners at nearby tables also had the good fortune to witness the extensive clean-up effort after getting to see the show! And it had to be a good one considering the gross amount of half eaten food strewn everywhere. The twins must have been absolutely wild considering how many shoe printed french fries adorned the carpet.

So here’s the part where you will be disappointed in me. I didn’t do anything. And I should have, but to this day I don’t think I could have. I had to satisfy myself with giving them absolutely scathing looks and I did manage to make a few not quite under my breath comments which I know they heard and completely disregarded as they sailed out without a look back. The reason I said nothing is that Dawn is an extremely non-confrontational person and since she knew the husband she was absolutely writhing with fear that I would say something. When I made a little too loud comment, I could tell she was embarrassed. With respect to her feelings, I kept my mouth (sort of) shut but I was furious. I couldn’t believe that these people had been so disrespectful to so many people and had gotten away with it. Not only did they make new diners wait an unnecessary amount of time for a table, they disrupted (and disgusted) the diners around them. But most importantly they created a RIDICULOUS amount of extra work for the restaurant staff. These people just didn’t care how their behavior affected other people–in particular those that had to serve them.

After being seated, I laughingly asked my server if they at least tipped well. She was very diplomatic in her answer but she looked pained. The worst part–they came in and did this regularly. In speaking with my friend, the owner (who was also diplomatic,) I found out that they were regulars. The staff actually tried to place them where they would cause the least disruption but what could they do? Refusing them service could have adversely affected their business as the couple had a presence in town and definitely a sense of entitlement. I think if it had gotten to the point where they were really disrupting other customers they would be asked to leave but it was borderline. It was the staff who took the brunt of it and, as this was unusual for their clientele, they were mopping up and moving on. Years later the owner told me that she was talking to another friend in a general way about this family and mentioned the twins. The friend asked if it was “so and so” family. It was. The friend knew exactly who they were. Turns out the boys are still wreaking havoc throughout town but now at an age where they should know better. Go figure. At least their father’s a lawyer. They’ll probably need one. 1231-13

This is a classic example of the phrase, “The world is their ashtray.”    I do disagree that the business owner had no recourse to stifle this behavior or call out the parents for not controlling their darlings.   Maybe it’s just me but I’d rather have one angry set of banned parents than lose clients disgusted with the out of control behavior of this family.

{ 63 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous January 5, 2014 at 12:54 pm

Also, I forgot to mention–the length of the ban following misbehaviour was usually roughly proportional to the calibre of the venue. So, misbehaving at the park would elicit a ban of maybe a few days, but misbehaving at, say, a fancy restaurant, or a very quiet art gallery, or any place that was expensive and/or had a higher standard for quiet/good behaviour, would lead to threats of “I’m NEVER taking you kids to [Venue] again!!!” The same was true for any place that was highly desirable, regardless of price point. My parents usually got me and my brother to behave in the summer by threatening to withhold outings to the beach (free), and in the winter by threatening to withhold outings to the ski hill (more expensive). So, my point is, why aren’t the parents in the OP making visits to the pizza restaurant contingent on good behaviour, if the kids are the ones who want to go there so often? Or, alternatively, if it’s the parents who are always initiating trips to that restaurant, and the kids are unable to handle it, why can’t they understand that their kids might not be ready for sit-down restaurants? They require a lot of “life skills” that three-and-four-year-olds might not have mastered yet: Choosing what you want from a menu, speaking clearly, saying please and thank you, waiting for your food to be served, making conversation in an appropriate tone/volume of voice, about appropriate subject matter, eating neatly and with proper table manners, etc., etc., etc. Yes, it’s necessary for kids to practice these skills, but that’s why you start at home, and then progress to fast-food restaurants, and THEN an informal sit-down restaurant like the one in the OP……and then Chez Fancy Pants, ONLY after the kids have proven that they can behave in a restaurant setting where the stakes are lower.

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metallicafan January 5, 2014 at 2:14 pm

I think that the restaurant owner should ban these people. If they are that disrespectful of the establishment and staff then they shouldn’t be allowed in there. If the kids make that much of a disgusting mess at a restaurant, I can only imagine the messes they make at home.

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kingsrings January 5, 2014 at 6:47 pm

I am also a former restaurant and retail worker. Everything that has been mentioned on here I have witnessed plenty of times. It never ceases to amaze me the lack of pride, shame, and manners that some people have. They knowingly do these rude things and could care less. How can they be that way?? One incident that stands out to me is when I worked at a fast-food restaurant many years ago. A large local church youth group came to our place only a few minutes before closing time because their usual hangout was closed that night. That’s fine, we know we’re supposed to serve until we’re closed. However, they left all of their food wrappers, leftovers, and food trays on the tables and floors! I was so shocked that nobody there did anything about that, especially their leaders. It reflects badly on their youth group and church as a whole.

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NocuralSunshine January 6, 2014 at 12:55 am

There are several restaurants, both national chains and local only, that will no longer have my business nor several of my friends and family member’s business. All because of how several of their other patrons acted and how little the staff did to counter their behavior. I can not fathom leaving a big mess for the staff to clean up, they have better things to do!

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Stacey Frith-Smith January 6, 2014 at 3:46 am

I don’t think that an honest reaction to a disaster in progress is anything to consider as ‘bad”. OP saw a disgusting horror of a mess and was shocked. She reacted. Big deal. An exclamation or a remark or two aren’t amiss in a situation like that. Have we become so politically correct that we can no longer respond to the egregious, the ridiculous and the insupportable? One cannot confront the family directly but saying something to your companion is not at all out of bounds. Of course- the flip side is that remarks that fail to take into account all the facts can be off-target and can earn well-deserved scorn and rebuke. We all know that policing the minutiae of the lives of others is ill advised. But behaving in such a way that you really DO make a spectacle of yourself- well, that’s a different kettle of fish.

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The Elf January 6, 2014 at 8:09 am

Z, you don’t see anything wrong with the way the family was behaving? I think everyone agrees that the behavior was not dangerous or illegal. But it was rude, and that makes it worthy of a little internet judgement. I think most people would agree that saying something directly to the family would be out of line (and accomplish nothing) but a hairy eyeball and muttered comments? That’s nothing.

As for the business…. Several restaurants DO ask people who cannot conduct themselves appropriately to leave. A few have taken the step to actually ban families. The funny thing is that they generally don’t lose business in the long term. Families may stay away, but other adults flock to a place known to be kid-free. I wouldn’t call turning a profit to be bad business! Whether this particular restaurant decides to ban this particular family or change their whole policy regarding children is up to them; only they can properly balance the pros and cons for their particular set of circumstances.

I can’t help but wonder, Z….. Do you have young children who make a mess in restaurants?

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JackieJormpJomp January 6, 2014 at 10:46 am

Z–so you’re the kind of person who lets her kids make messes in public, based on the misguided belief that it’s ok because cleaning it is someone’s “job.”

Read the responses here, please. It’s not okay just because you want it to be.

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Spike January 6, 2014 at 3:22 pm

I work in a restaurant and it is unfortunately a routine occurrence for families with children to come in and leave the table and floor in absolute chaos. There are many other families with children who leave no or a minimum of mess so I don’t think leaving your table in an absolute cesspool is in fact an inevitability. I don’t enjoy dealing with it…it is my job but in a small, fast paced restaurant like mine, which is staffed at minimum levels, it not only affects me but, as the OP points out, other customers, when I have to take time to clean up this giant mess. I suppose some might say, just hire more staff. These people have obviously never ran a small business to understand how doing this would cut substantially into profits to the point where running the business is no longer even feasible.

I really think it has to do with how much one expects to be catered to by abstract entities (aka service staff) VS actual people who have other responsibilities. It’s easy to tell the difference in one simple interaction: when they pay, do they hand me a crumpled up bill or do they uncrumple it themselves?

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Calli Arcale January 6, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Z:
“It really baffles me when people like the OP think it is in any way their business or right to tell that family how they can and cannot act in public. If they were a danger to themselves or others or unruly to the point of the business losing business then MAYBE are you entitled to act.”

The description makes it pretty clear that these people cost the business a lot more to serve than other customers do. Even ignoring that the article indicates actions which CAN lose business (making other guests wait longer to be seated while the mess is cleared away, putting other diners off their appetites by watching the show, leaving the other diners disgusted at the behavior, etc.), it’s quite clear that this family costs far more to serve than any other guests do. “It took 8-10 minutes for 3-4 staff people to clean up this small booth area. They went over the carpet with a carpet sweeper at least 3 times. Two servers cleared the table and repeatedly wiped everything down; numerous trips to the trash.” That means they cost the business probably at least three times as much as other guests do. Since I doubt they’re tipping three times as much, the business isn’t recouping that expense. So they are losing money every time these people show up.

Yes, it absolutely is the business’ right to set restrictions on the behavior of guests. This business has chosen not to, but many businesses choose otherwise. Buffets have ejected guests who take heaping plates and then discard most of it, because they lose so much money when those people show up. Stores have ejected guests who knock over displays. Ski areas have ejected customers not observing ski area etiquette (and for more than just safety). Airlines have ejected passengers (and usually had them arrested as well) for mouthing off to the flight crew.

The bottom line is this: nobody has the right to force you to behave a certain way, but businesses likewise cannot be forced to serve you if you’re costing them money.

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Maggie January 6, 2014 at 11:14 pm

It’s one of those times a Youtube video would be posted under the title “Lord of the Flies family at local restaurant”.

I know. Bad Maggie.

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Nancy January 7, 2014 at 1:33 am

Sounds like a family that needs to start getting the “special” menu. You know, the one where all the prices are are dollar or two over the regular menu?

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SV January 7, 2014 at 6:17 am

OP, exactly what did you think you should do? Making passive aggressive comments under your breath ( but loud enough for them to hear) is worse behaviour than the family demonstrated. At least they were up front about their bad manners. This wasn’t your restaurant, place of business, home or anything else, which means that the family’s bad behaviour, although distasteful, was not your concern. If you want to be upset about it, fine; if you want to discuss it with your friend, husband, sister, whatever, fine; no one is going to argue that the family wasn’t completely appalling. But passive aggressiveness is ridiculous in this situation. And bad manners on your part.

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Multi-Facets January 28, 2014 at 3:32 pm

@ metallicafan:
These idiots don’t make messes at home, because then THEY would have to clean them up, and they’re far too “speshul” to dirty their hands. They make messes in public because other people have to clean them up.

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