Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What entitled behavior of adults teaches the kids


First, I will use the terms "entitlement" and "rudeness" interchangeably in the following post because they are the same thing. 

Second, none of this applies to the beleaguered parents of uncontrollable children we see in airports, supermarkets, or other places where they have to be, and are already miserable enough without the pursed-lip scrutiny of strangers. In those situations, if you're a nice person, the thing to do is tell those parents that someday they'll miss these times and should enjoy them while they can, so that at least you can make them  laugh.  

Please continue.

In my travels around the internet last week, I came across the story of Grant Achatz, a chef in Chicago who is considering a ban on small children in his restaurant, Alinea. The story goes that, short a babysitter, a couple brought their infant with them to the pricey Alinea where dinner runs about $265 a plate. The baby cried throughout the evening (of course) and diners who'd secured their non-refundable plates months in advance, were outraged.

I'd like to be appalled by the entitled behavior of this couple but entitled adults are everywhere and you can only be so appalled by the same thing for so long.  However, I caught a glimpse of entitlement in the making, just last week.  

Which was appalling.  

We were meeting friends for dinner in a restaurant, which, on the scale of eateries in our little Concord, NH is more "up" than "down". It is known for quiet ambiance and is popular among couples in their forties and fifties rather than twenties and thirties. The menu is comprised of old family recipes, the prices are on the higher side.

It was around 6:00 and not that busy yet, so we took a seat at the bar to have a glass of wine and wait. 

A party of six entered the restaurant, two couples, each with a child of about three or four. 

So far so good; cute kids, nice adults.

Within ten minutes, the kids were standing up in the booth and tossing things across the table, while the couples looked past them to chat with each other. The noise level increased and a server appeared to get things rolling. A moment later, there were sounds of a disagreement and the manager headed over.

I began to eavesdrop, first, because that's my job, and, second, because I was sitting right there.

"Why can't you?" one of the men asked the manager.
"Sir, the entrees are served as they are described."
"My kids don't eat like that."
"We can't create and price new entrees to order."
"You can't just throw a little pasta and butter together?"
"It disrupts the kitchen to part from the menu."
"You have, what, like ten people here? I don't see why you can't accommodate us."

This went on for a while. 

"I can't do that." 
"You just don't want to do that."
"I could check with the chef, but I know what the answer will be."
"I've been here many times, tell the chef that."

The manager started for the kitchen, turned, came back.

"On second thought, I'd like you to leave," he said. "I don't appreciate your attitude. It isn't what you're asking for, it's your attitude. "

The man was  incredulous. "You got to be kidding me."

"I mean it," the manager said. "Find another place to eat."

"Just stop," one of the women pleaded,  "Just stop it."

Nothing happened for a few seconds while the manager stood his ground and the man gaped. 

"Go ahead," said the manager, "find somewhere else."

The couples and their children slid from the booth and started for the door, the two men making loud, over the shoulder comments about rude, unaccommodating restaurants to which they would not return, to which they would make sure their friends never returned, or anyone else to whom they would be sure to report what happened, etc.

At the bar, the manager was noticeably upset. 

"Nice job," I said. "I was wondering how far away from them you could put us."

"I never do that," said the manager. "It was his attitude."

And this is the thing about entitled people. They make you feel intolerant when you refuse to put  up with them, and passive when you do.

A year ago, I saw the same kind of thing in another upscale bar (we have three) where my husband and I met for dinner after a week apart. A couple entered, their small, tired, complaining kids in tow, and proceeded to order drinks, appetizers and entrees while their restless children hopped on and off the stools, saying, "Mama, I'm bored." Over a row of planters was an enormous dining room, nearly empty, where Mama might have made her bored children more comfortable, but where, evidently, she did not prefer to sit.  They not only couldn't have appeared less concerned about how their kids were behaving, they couldn't have appeared less concerned about how everyone else was affected.

And this is the other thing about entitled people. They address obnoxious behavior by normalizing it, using lazy rationale like, "Kids will be kids".

I'm fascinated by entitlement; what people expect just for waking up in the morning.  But as satisfying as it is to watch adults who behave this way get their comeuppance, it is discouraging to see them model this behavior in front of their kids who will first be kids, and then be adults.

Entitlement begins at home, where children learn that only some people deserve respect, while others don't, where one's own needs are more important than anyone else's and where demanding and sulking bring faster results than negotiating or compromising. They grow up to treat servers badly, refuse to wait in line, abuse customer service people on the phone and bring their crying babies to very expensive restaurants where they feel they have as much right to stay put as anyone else who paid.

Chef Achatz tweeted the question: "should babies be banned from expensive restaurants?"

They should be. Cell phones are banned in nice dining rooms and like cell phones, babies can go off anytime. But more than that, a restaurant owes me a nice dining experience in exchange for my non-refundable cash, more than they owe entitled, rude people their good manners.


  1. Hi Susan! As a partner in a child-free marriage I completely agree with your perspective in this post. I too am flabbergasted at couples with children who take their children to any restaurant and let them behave in ways I'm sure they would never tolerate in their own homes. But in many cases they do it everywhere--as though a child were the free-pass to do just about anything and everything they desire. Last summer my husband and I went to a national park with very narrow pathways through beautiful nature, but instead of being able to enjoy the experience we were constantly on the look out for monstrous baby carriages coming at us loaded down with children making it impossible for those of us coming in the opposite direction to stay on the trail. But instead of them pulling aside to let us pass, there was complete expectation that they and their children had the right of way. While the challenge of being a good parent is likely all encompassing, I do not see that it makes a person more worthy of consideration---and as you say is a VERY negative example to those children for when they too become adults. Thank you for stating something that we all observe but seldom address. ~Kathy

  2. Very loud applause from over here, great piece!

  3. Thank you Kathy and Elin, for reading and for your comments. It's not an intolerance thing - though I've had people tell me it is - I really believe it's a respect thing.

  4. I agree, agree and agree! I have been many places with children over the years and have gathered them up, apologized and vacated said establishment because my children ( or grandchildren) were not behaving appropriately. I have asked for food already ordered to be boxed for take out and I have returned inside to pick it up and pay for it. It isn't in anyone's best interest to allow children to disrupt a meal in public. That training, btw, begins with meals AT THE TABLE in the home.
    Restaurants with big ticket menus are simply not going to be fast enough nor bland enough for a child to enjoy. No reason to subject the child nor the other patrons to the behavior that will naturally follow.

    I'm with owners have the right and the obligation to set their own atmosphere and maintain it by what ever means they choose.

  5. I wonder if the manager's refusal to cook noodles and butter wasn't driven by the bad behavior of the parents. I also have left restaurants if my children can't behave and they learned to sit quietly. I never had a restaurant not try to accommodate a simple request for noodles and butter- but it may have been because I was doing my job and the kids were good. Great post! Virginia-

  6. I'm positive Virginia, that the parents could have used a different approach and it would have been a win-win. Noodles and butter served, and a lesson in diplomacy for the little ones. Not to mention, the tip that might have been left.

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