So I'm new here and literally signed up just so I can get some advice on this topic.

I own an pretty upscale coffee shop & craft beer/wine bar in a small town. I've only been open for a year but business has been really amazing! The thing about small towns though, is everyone knows everyone and I have to be careful what I say and do (I used to manage a coffee shop in a VERY busy tourist location in Hawaii so the difference is, I could tell people to buggar off and refuse service to a**holes without it affecting the business at all. But obviously I can't do that in a small town, at least without being established yet, I'm too new to risk it).

So anyways, I don't want to get too lengthy here, but I have a big problem of young mom's with toddlers who come in left and right and their kids TERRORIZE the place. The main problem is with one mom, who insists--literally insists--that her 2 year old child gets a muffin even though he says he doesn't want one and then it gets completely thrown all over and trampled into the floor, all over the tables, etc. And then she smiles and waves goodbye to me, never acknowledges the huge mess her son created, as I'm grabbing the cleaning squad to go clean up the tornado of muffin left behind. The same mom also gets her son a drink everytime...and I swear to God, he spills it every time. We had to throw a rug away months ago because of HER son. And she never apologizes or says anything, she just takes 1000 napkins to clean it up everytime and hurries out. Or there's also the scenario of how the child "just loves your straws, he plays with them, it's so funny" as her kid is grabbing a handful of straws from the condiment bar. For real, lady? 

Also, when she meets people at the shop for a coffee date, she completely IGNORES her child and he runs around the entire store yelling and playing as if it's a flippin daycare. Yesterday the whole couch area where I have newspapers & magazines was DESTROYED. Newspapers were all torn apart and lying all over the couches and floor--all within 5 feet in view of the mom but she didn't do ANYTHING about it--and her kid wasn't even hanging out there, he was running around...so it was just a giant mess he created and she did nothing about. 

So the hard part is, I'm *kind of* her friend. I grew up with her husband, who is now a doctor and never home and shes a stay at home mom with 2 kids and she is literally losing her mind, so I feel sorry for her.

So how would you handle this situation? I'm going crazy. Sometimes I'm super busy and can't clean up the crazy crazy mess left behind, so then new customers have to see it and probably think my beautiful shop is just a pig sty. 

I need advice. I want to tell her that I won't allow her kid to have muffins anymore and GOOD LORD BRING A SIPPY CUP but I'm really afraid of offending her and also all her friends who some I even hang out with. 

Help!

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Your choice: continue to let her walk on you like a doormat or not. Screw worrying about offending her, she obviously has no problem being oblivious and offensive to others. But of course in private not public let her know she either needs to respect your establishment or else won't be welcome there. It is your business not a public community center and you have the right to refuse service to anyone.

This definitely requires finesse.  She honestly may not realize the disruption she is causing for your staff and other customers.  I agree with Mike, this is a private conversation, and it needs to be as positive as possible.  "We love that you support local business, and it's great to see you and your family in here so often."  Then comes the "however," and it can be phrased in a way you feel comfortable with.  I think Mike mentioning to keep it about being respectful is spot-on; not only does she need to respect your space, but she needs to be respectful of your other customers, as well.  I don't think I'd give her an ultimatum at this point, but would give her some feedback and see how she handles it in future visits.

You could always buy a few cheap kids' cups too.  Have them on hand, use them for little kiddos who come in, and they're going to feel like they're getting special attention.  It'd be a small investment that would likely save you a lot of headache.  Good luck, and let us know what you decide to do!

A. BUY a sippy cup or two and provide to customer with toddler.
B. i was a former teacher--have no problem speaking directly to ill behaved children letting them know they need to stay at their table because "of the many dangers"...hot liquids, glass, etc. ;)
C. Respectfully, but firmly, let her know kids simply can't run loose. as for the mess, invest in a couple boosters or high chairs and strongly suggest their usage! at least the mess in centralized.
D. if all else fails, offending her might be the only solution--sounds like you'd rather she not come in anyway.

I've found the easiest way to keep child mania under control is to make it difficult for parents to ignore their terrorizing children and to keep their methods of destruction under strict supervision.

We have a crowded shop in a tight space, which is a city shop problem that rural stores don't often have.  We also our music louder than most coffee shops.  This allows us to control the kind of atmosphere we have.  The genre and the volume of your music can dramatically change how people behave in your store.  If you can have chill music a little louder than normal, it sends the message that you are serious about having a shop that is comfortable for drinking coffee, not entertaining children.

We do not leave newspapers out for customers.  It makes a mess and most people read the news on the internet now anyway.

We do leave straws, lids and napkins out at heights only adults can reach, but if your customers insist on giving them to her children, you may want to consider keeping some of your disposables behind the bar so you can control how many are being used. 

Also, some kindly worded messages in your dining areas may help.  We have little signs asking customers to share tables.  Anything can sound friendly if you word it correctly, and still send the message you are hoping to convey.

At some point, you will have to approach someone about the way they behave in your store.  You want to pick your battles, but there are ways that you can speak to someone about their behavior without having to go to war.  Maybe just sweep around this kid as they are still sitting in the shop, or pick things up off the floor and say "I think you dropped this."  Oftentimes, people just don't know how much work they cause you, so just making sure they see how hard you have to work to keep your shop clean despite their rude neglect is enough to make them wake up to what's going on around them.

Usually, after I've done all this, it's time to have that really uncomfortable conversation.  Just remember during your conversation that they have to live with this kid every waking hour of every day for fifteen years. You only have to deal with them a couple of times a week.

All this being said, we have a lot of regulars with amazing kids.  My baristas and I have our own children and love seeing these kids grow in our community.  This isn't just a problem about parents or kids, it's about educating all of your customers no matter who they come in with.

We have solved this problem in our cafes by having small, but very complete kids areas. Normally we have a range of toys that will not be used as missiles as well as a wall mounted and secure TV, DVD player and a small IKEA kids table and stools. Its amazing but using what terrorises you as a strength means better business for your cafe as well as enhancing your adult customer base.

Katherine- 

I really like your advice on this, especially on the topic of lids, straws, etc. I've found that this summer we're going through 7-10x the number of straws as we sell cold drinks, and it's because I made the mistake of buying them in 'fun' colors and putting them in the reach, or at least in the sight line, of children. We're going back to boring clear straws ASAP! 


Katherine said:

I've found the easiest way to keep child mania under control is to make it difficult for parents to ignore their terrorizing children and to keep their methods of destruction under strict supervision.

We have a crowded shop in a tight space, which is a city shop problem that rural stores don't often have.  We also our music louder than most coffee shops.  This allows us to control the kind of atmosphere we have.  The genre and the volume of your music can dramatically change how people behave in your store.  If you can have chill music a little louder than normal, it sends the message that you are serious about having a shop that is comfortable for drinking coffee, not entertaining children.

We do not leave newspapers out for customers.  It makes a mess and most people read the news on the internet now anyway.

We do leave straws, lids and napkins out at heights only adults can reach, but if your customers insist on giving them to her children, you may want to consider keeping some of your disposables behind the bar so you can control how many are being used. 

Also, some kindly worded messages in your dining areas may help.  We have little signs asking customers to share tables.  Anything can sound friendly if you word it correctly, and still send the message you are hoping to convey.

At some point, you will have to approach someone about the way they behave in your store.  You want to pick your battles, but there are ways that you can speak to someone about their behavior without having to go to war.  Maybe just sweep around this kid as they are still sitting in the shop, or pick things up off the floor and say "I think you dropped this."  Oftentimes, people just don't know how much work they cause you, so just making sure they see how hard you have to work to keep your shop clean despite their rude neglect is enough to make them wake up to what's going on around them.

Usually, after I've done all this, it's time to have that really uncomfortable conversation.  Just remember during your conversation that they have to live with this kid every waking hour of every day for fifteen years. You only have to deal with them a couple of times a week.

Hey Alyssa- 

I know it's been almost two years since your first post - any follow up? have you solved your tiny terror problem? I'm interested to hear how it turned out. 

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