In Maine diner meltdown, entitlement is the issue

Portland, Maine, diner owner Darla Neugebauer.
Portland, Maine, diner owner Darla Neugebauer.WCSH 6

Never has a family suffered so much for so few pancakes.

For those not following the saga: Portland, Maine, diner owner Darla Neugebauer yelled at a crying toddler to be quiet because the tot was allegedly disturbing other patrons.

The family of the 21-month-old posted an angry Facebook missive about the bad service. Neugebauer, the owner of Marcy’s Diner, fired back with an even angrier post about bad parenting. And the online public entered into a debate over whether it’s OK to take a crabby child out to breakfast.

Dining out with children is incredibly polarizing. On one team: hungry families who need to eat — families that arrive with hungry, fussy kids. On the other: people who want to enjoy their chocolate chip waffles in peace, thank you very much, and aren’t paying for a soundtrack of yowls. Fair enough.


Entitlement is at the root of the issue.

There’s a sense that conscientious parents will take action by removing disruptive children from a restaurant or similar setting — or not go out at all. Meanwhile, some parents of fussy kids appear to think they can allow their progeny to behave however they like — helplessly allowing them to whine and disturb other patrons because (a) that’s simply what kids do or (b) because they don’t know how to intervene.

Many people applauded the diner owner for speaking up for the masses, while others couldn’t believe that someone in the hospitality business would dare to slam her hands on a counter and yell at a customer, much less at a child.

So, is there a right answer? Are parents with young children condemned to eat takeout under cover of darkness or to dine nowhere fancier than Chuck E. Cheese’s? If you do dine out, what happens if your child has an epic meltdown before the entrees arrive?


First things first, according to Winchester-based parenting coach Liz Warrick: It’s never OK to yell at a crying child. Period.

“Under no circumstance should anyone ever yell at a child. If the restaurant owner was unhappy with the parent, she should have dealt with the parent. Never, ever yell at a child. You could get short-term results, but the long-term impact isn’t good. You become the one having the temper tantrum,” Warrick says.

If a surly patron or owner does say something to you, Warrick suggests simply ignoring them. The last thing you want is for your child to witness you getting into a fight with another adult.

Furthermore, the key to preventing restaurant rumbles is to do “pre-work” at home before going out in the first place, she says.

“Model good behavior at home. Show kids that mealtime is a time for eating, talking, passing things, saying please and thank you, waiting, and listening to people,” she says. Three is a great age to begin teaching these lessons.”

Warrick also encourages parents to role-play right before a meal out. In the car, ask your child to show you how she’ll behave if she wants something.

“Ask, ‘How will you get my attention if you need me?’ and have her demonstrate. Saying ‘show me’ is more concrete than simply asking a child to ‘behave’ or to ‘be good,’ ” Warrick says.

That said, even the mildest toddlers can be like “mad scientists,” she says. Knowing that your child might want to roam and explore, come with an arsenal of distractions like books and coloring apparatus. Take a walk outside or to the bathroom.


“Get up and move around. You’re not on an airplane,” Warrick says.

Of course, crayons and Cheerios can only go so far. If the kitchen is backed up and you haven’t even gotten your menus, be realistic about your odds, says Warrick. The quicker the meal, the more likely it is that toddler behavior will remain under control.

“Just be ready. Do not plan on a leisurely meal. Look at the menu before you go and order immediately. Ask for the check when you order. Ask for to-go boxes in advance and explain to the waiter that you don’t know how long you’ll be there,” she suggests.

Finally, if your child does have a dreaded meltdown, do what Warrick calls a barometer check. Is your child hungry? Tired? Are her clothes bothering her?

“Crying is a child’s way of communicating when they don’t have the proper words, so make sure their needs aren’t in flux,” she says.

If it’s nothing more than an attention-getting tantrum, by all means, leave within a few minutes to calm your child down, not by yelling but by soothing her and then asking what happened.

“If it’s clear that you’re trying to engage your child and remedy the situation, I think most restaurant patrons will have empathy,” she says.

And take heart — by even considering the effect that your toddler might have on other diners, you’re already ahead of the game. Bon appetit.


Watch a brief clip from WCSH-TV’s interview with Darla Neugebauer below:

The owner of a Maine diner is defending her actions and comments on social media that have riled up parents across the country. STORY: http://on.wcsh6.com/1Llybfa

Posted by WCSH 6 on Sunday, July 19, 2015

Kara Baskin can be reached at kcbaskin@gmail.com