The recent hullabaloo regarding the Portland diner owner, who yelled at patrons for their crying toddler, has steamed up social media. The story has gone viral on Facebook and in local and national news media, with people splitting their allegiances between the parents and the owner of Marcy’s Diner. The story proves, once again, the power of social media, but also reveals how divided people are when it comes to appropriate behavior, personal boundaries and how adults – parents included – should treat children in public places.

First off, our take is that the diner’s owner, Darla Neugebauer, was well within her rights to ask the family to leave, since the child had been crying for 40 minutes and, like Neugebauer said, it’s her restaurant, her rules. However, she should have employed more tact, rather than yelling and causing a spectacle, which was ironically pretty similar to the child’s behavior.

The event entered the wider public realm when the mother, Tara Carson of New York City, complained on the diner’s Facebook page, saying Neugebauer was “deranged” and “not suitable to run a business.” Neugebauer then posted a profanity-laced Facebook reply to defend her actions. In doing so, she berated the parents for failing to control their child. She wrote, “You just sit there and let your (expletive) screaming kid go!…(expletive) you!” She made many other over-the-top comments we won’t repeat.

Last week, the mother wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post describing the situation and further calling out the diner owner for unfair treatment. Thousands of people have since commented on who was right and who was wrong. Clearly, both were wrong. And yet, both were right.

Neugebauer has painted herself as a tough Mainah who takes nothing from no one. We respect that. She may lose some future customers for her gruff personality, but she’ll probably gain others. And, since she seems like a shrewd businesswoman, she knows this. She was wrong, however, for showing little tact and cursing her customers, especially a young family.

The mother was both wrong and right in her response, as well. Yes, families with toddlers deserve everyone’s tolerance because they’re often dealing with irrational behavior. They expect people to understand that all kids carry on and throw tantrums, no matter the parenting style. However, when a child is unconsolable in a public place, parents should remove the child as soon as possible. Forty minutes of crying should be a clue that the child is upset with the situation. The mother and father, however, failed to act. Yes, there are times when irritable children must be tolerated – planes and trains come to mind – but a restaurant can be easily vacated.

So, will this episode have a lingering impact on what people from away think of Maine? Should we worry about the Washington Post’s readership avoiding the state, thinking it’s full of Neugebauers? Who knows, but we’re sure the experience doesn’t help Portland’s or Maine’s reputation, especially since everyone knows we have a similarly gruff and uncouth governor.

But, more than the city or state’s reputation, this flap should remind everyone that a little more tolerance is needed for others. Emotions were heightened that morning at Marcy’s for what we think is very little cause. Neugebauer should have been gentler in her approach, showing some empathy. And the parents should have thought of the restaurant patrons, who had to endure the crying child for 40 minutes.

This story has also struck a nerve because most have been in situations where we see parents failing to discipline their children or use common sense to avoid spiraling situations. And when parents don’t do the right thing, the public tends to sit back and cope as best they can. This varies from decades ago, when strangers felt they could confront a parent or a child themselves. Today, people wouldn’t dare to criticize a child for fear they may be viewed as crotchety, old-fashioned, or worse, intolerant. But, perhaps if nearby restaurant patrons had spoken up, making sure everything was all right, the situation wouldn’t have soured as it did.

While there are no winners in this, one thing’s for sure: Everybody knows a lot more about Marcy’s Diner. And any publicity is good publicity for Neugebauer’s bottom line.

-John Balentine, managing editor


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.