When Parents Take A Backseat In Your Restaurant

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QUESTION From: David S in FL

“Hi! New here. Checked the columns and didn’t see this covered.

What do you do in these 2 situations? As a restaurant open to everyone I understand that families want to spend quality time outside and relax, but where do you draw the line....

1) a child will not stop crying or screaming, and other patrons are complaining.

2) a child keeps running around the restaurant annoying other patrons and bumping into servers. You tell the parents that for the safety of the child, it would be best if they didn’t run around the restaurant, but that doesn’t help at all.

It’s getting tedious to routinely have to have my staff pick up kids by the armpits and carefully carry them back to their tables but smashed bottles behind the bar, having anyone get cut by shards of broken glass or having a kid trip a server and get hot liquid spilled all over them is not something I want to deal with.



First off, I would not pick up a stranger’s child unless they were:

in the middle of the street, in the middle of a desert, in a burning building, in a dumpster, in the middle of a forrest, stuck in a snow bank or drowning / lying unconscious and facedown in a pool of liquid.

While children can pose a danger, I would recommend (100% of the time) avoiding the possibility of making it worse by not engaging/touching someone else’s child. I would, most often engage a child by asking if they are lost or need help but think backing away and addressing the parent or guardian is the best course of action in situations like this.

If bottles or glasses are being thrown - Instruct your staff to get out of the way and take cover until the problem is resolved.

I’m not saying it’s right or fair… I’m just saying that’s the litigious world we live in today.

I'd ask the parent/guardian to please keep their child at their table for the safety and sanity of our other guests and staff working to serve them.

If they still don't do anything after that, I would try once again before (politely, tactfully and while projecting confidence) explaining that if they didn’t - I’d be happy to offer them a reservation to return on a night that worked better for everyone.

As far as the screaming kids go: There's a difference between a child just crying, or a child screaming / running around and harassing people.

the former - I’d probably let it go…depending upon the severity of course.

You could ask: “Is everything ok over here?” And put parents on the defensive

You could go offense and let them know that if they have to leave early, you’d be happy to pack their food to go and get their check right away.

Or you could go with a more moderate approach and understand that 9/10 times a misbehaving child is either a sign of boredom or hunger…but whatever you do - resist the urge to suggest the guests most offended (often those closest to the screaming child) engage in conversation peppered with strong and frequent bad language - or start taking photos and/or videos of the child. While both often work, they don’t contribute to the culture and scene you’d probably prefer.

Dough balls are the original slime and not difficult to come by in a restaurant (nor are they toxic if ingested…but you should AVOID giving anything to a young child that has a propensity to be swallowed) - especially if they are “unattended”)

I’ve also found that a piece of scratch paper and some crayons, a pen or some (non-permanent) markers help keep children busy.

Making small talk with kids to lighten the mood (NOT TO REPRIMAND) and let them know they exist sometimes works wonders as well.

It never ceases to amaze me how many operators tell me they are a “family restaurant” or “cater to children” yet don’t bring bread and butter to the table ASAP.

If one of your guests, no matter how young, is causing an unwanted distraction to your staff and/or the rest of your guests. It’s never wrong to ask if there’s anything you can do to help quiet or remedy the disturbance.

If this is a recurring problem, consider a “QUIET KIT” (with drawing paper and crayons, an old school etch-a-sketch, child-friendly tablet with games/video, a Woody Willy, etc...).

Discussing the child’s behavior directly with the child (in front of the parent/guardian (who clearly thinks the child is responsible enough to be in or run around your establishment) can sometimes be less inflammatory or offensive than addressing the “responsible” party (child) directly.

REMEMBER: Tact is key and should be practiced via role play with your mgmnt staff.

Every guest should receive personalized service but, at the end of the day, it’s about everyone’s safety and the greatest common good.

If a guest becomes so incensed that they walk out, trash your restaurant or threaten never to return… you’re probably be better off anyway. (*NB* If it becomes an issue on social media - I would ignore and NOT engage in a back and forth).

Feel free to either graciously apologize to the other tables and ensure that you're doing your absolute best to "assist” the other table; or if that table is nearing the end of their meal, comp them a couple desserts, put them in togo boxes and offer a gentle nudge from like, "Looks like the little ones are restless. Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you’d prefer to take your dessert to go... and if you should have to leave early this evening, please know that desserts are on me as a way of enticing you all to come back sooner - and smile.

For kids running around, I would escort the child back to their table (without touching them - but using confident and positive energy/body language) & tell the child once in front of their parent(s)/guardian(s): "You can't run around inside the restaurant because you can get hurt & make the people working here trip and fall down! They're carrying heavy plates & hot things and that's veeeeeeeery dangerous" (emphasize very - say it in a friendly but stern tone and give a wink to the adults at the table to let them know you’re on their side and not angry or offended).

Parents tend to feel attacked/annoyed when you ask them to get their kids under control. Generally gets interpreted as you trying them how to parent.

If you really want to avoid situations like these, the best remedy is sometimes a higher price point and/or prix fixe menu...If it is your norm, and other guests don’t seem to be bothered by it; try to relax and Be grateful that so many people in your community review your business as a second home/place they can be comfortable with family. There are far worse things they can see you and your business as.

Good Luck! And if you come across any other helpful ideas, I’d be grateful if you’d share them with me.


Josh Sapienza

*NB* If hot liquid is spilled on a any guest (regardless of the age) treat it like any other accident: follow your company’s protocol for HOW TO HANDLE AN ACCIDENT OR INJURY.

If you don’t have a protocol in place, consider following these 6 steps:

  1. Call for help to caution other guests/staff of the spill. Never leave a spill or hazard unattended until the danger is remedied or some step(s) have been taken to ensure additional injury does not occur (e.g., closing access to the area, posting a wet floor sign / cones)

  2. Be sure to apologize (more than once) that “this happened”. Try to avoid language that claims responsibility before a thorough investigation like “I’m sorry we did that”.

  3. Ask if the guest(s) and/or staff member(s) if they are ok and ask where they are hurt/what has been soiled, where else the spill/broken glass/etc... has spread.

  4. Grab the first aid kit if and call for medical assistance if necessary.

  5. Fill out an incident report / contact insurance company

  6. Get the video footage if avail. and upload onto a thumb drive or external hard drive.