Friday, December 09, 2005

Patrons lose their indoor voices

The struggle to set a boundary for acceptable customer behavior has been shifting decidedly in restaurateurs’ favor as of late. Maybe the industry is still hopped up from its awesome showing in the Cell Phone Controversy, when operators were rewarded for their intolerance of the portable yak boxes with appreciation from guests who preferred conversations be conducted with people actually in the restaurant. Whatever the reason, the trade has lately been a veritable caped crusader in dealing with patrons who allow their children to disturb other customers.

The media have been filled with stories about restaurants that set reasonable ground rules for the sort of pint-sized patrons whom many places would do nearly anything to draw a few years back. The most-reported measure seems to be the sign that Dan McCauley posted in his Chicago bakery-cafĂ© after seeing untended kids bounce off his display cases like outfielders hitting the wall at Wrigley: “Children of all ages have to behave and use their indoor voices at Taste of Heaven.”

His subtle suggestion that children behave for the good of all patrons touched off a firestorm. Parents took umbrage, while guests fed up with having their visits disrupted by unruly rug rats found the courage to hail McCauley as a brave knight. He received over 600 letters, according to an Associated Press story carried in a number of newspapers, some of which subsequently published a few letters of their own. Here’s one from The Chicago Tribune: “With all this clamor for smoke-free restaurants, child-free restaurants and cell phone-free restaurants, why not just go all the way and have only customer-free restaurants?”

But the proponents of shriek-free dining didn’t waiver, perhaps pushed onward by support from no less a power than Dear Abby. On Monday, her syndicated advice column carried a letter (from a party called Wish I’d Had Ear Plugs) asking for the Dear's opinion on unruly children in restaurants. Abby opined that there’s no need for tolerance in such a situation. She recounted being in a restaurant that evicted a family because the little ones were being annoying, and noted that the patrons who remained gave the manager a round of applause for the heave-ho.

It’ll be interesting to see how far the behave-or-else movement goes before it loses momentum or is walloped by the back swing of the pendulum. It’s just a shame my grammar-school nuns weren’t still alive. They'd have been the neutron bomb in the push for decorum.

No comments:

Post a Comment