Monday, August 03, 2009

Bensi Italian Restaurant in North Wales, PA is NOT kid friendly

Linus got to see his grandparents yesterday because we happened to be up that area (Montgomeryville, North Wales, PA area) to visit a new nine day old friend. My parents recommended Bensi in the Shoppes at English Village because they said it had good Italian food and would be kid friendly. Linus is only 6 months old and we haven't taken him out to eat that much (maybe four times, all lunch). Since this was a little new to us and him, the kid friendly description was important. My parents had already been to the restaurant many (~10) times before.

When we got there at 6:30 or so the restaurant was almost empty, maybe three tables of 30 had people at them. As we were seated another couple came in with two babies as well. The staff very helpfully got us a high chair, put us away from other patrons and at a banquette table where we could spread out if needed. Linus had just been breastfed and so we thought we would be good to go. Being a 6 month old he had other plans. He was excited at all the new sights and vocalized, fussed and cried off and on. Toys were not soothing him and he may be going through a growth spurt so we tried to feed him some cereal. Please servers, when a mom asks for hot water for the cereal and the baby is crying right in front of you, she needs it that minute not when we remind you the second time.

Linus gets fed the cereal and that is quieter with some happy yelps during the meal. All good things come to an end but babies don't know that so he complains at the end as usual because he liked it so much. Thus we try to distract him with some toys and get him back into the car seat because even though he is fussy, this is a prelude to a nap and some quite and a chance for his parents to eat. Keep in mind that we had only just gotten our appetizers so this whole time has been no longer than twenty minutes.

About the time when we seem to be getting Linus calmed, a manager (the unfriendly one) comes over and tells us in the most officious manner possible that some of the other patrons have been threatening to leave because of our crying baby, and some parents take their children outside to calm them, and isn't teething tough. That ended the kid friendly atmosphere for me. Lynn took Linus outside to calm him, and never did come back into the restaurant. Our dinners arrived a few minutes later but none of us wanted to eat them then anyway.

I tried to forget about it and eat; the manager could have found a better way to express his concern, but when your wife is outside with the baby and angry, it is hard to eat. I finally went up and told both managers that they had just lost us as customers. Lynn pointed out later to me that the restaurant was worried about losing one set of patrons but now has lost us. They just traded one for the other. I myself wonder if that calculus works out for them, how much business is there from people who complain about babies vs. people who have babies and want to go out to eat. Everyone knows that Italian food isn't about family and friends, it is about corporate profits. Yet the Bensi story does mention food made from fresh ingredients and love, and how the first restaurant where they served American families (no crying babies though).

One of the managers, the friendly one, not the one who had asked us to quiet the baby before, came over to try to smooth things over. He told a long story about how corporate had many rules for the restaurant, how they had had whole tables walk out recently because of babies or children crying, how they had problems with children sitting at the bar, how they had a night where some kids were running around the restaurant and their parents let them, how they had had a lot of turnover in staff and managers. None of which were completely relevant to our situation - Linus can't run yet, and won't be doing it in restaurants when he can, he won't sit at the bar. If it was an attempt to engender some sympathy for him and his restaurant, it didn't work, I choose a 6 month old baby over a 50 something restaurant manager every time, but I am biased. We asked him if anyone had complained about the other children that were crying while Linus was (there were two).

I pointed out that they have a lot of competition in the area. Iron Hill Brewery is a few doors down in the same shopping center. They are a perfectly good example of a restaurant/brewery started in Newark Delaware that expanded from the original location but lost none of the appeal of the first location. Uno's is up the street. There are probably several Italian restaurants per square mile in the area, many of which are not franchises and so might appreciate the business more. I don't know if those places are kid friendly or not, but at least there is a possibility, I know Bensi is NOT kid friendly.

They tried to comp us the meals we didn't eat but my parents and I would have none of it. I told him he (and Bensi's everywhere) had lost us as customers, my parents can do what they want, though they weren't to thrilled about ever going back either. He had even recognized my parents because they had been in there many times before. I think he realized the restaurant handled it wrong. I would ask you to leave your advice about how to best handle this situation in the comments, because I don't know what it was. What are the rules about how long your baby can cry in a restaurant before you take them out? What are the rules about complaining about crying babies? I don't know, I have never complained about a crying baby in my life, even before mine. Should complainers get the restaurant staff to get the babies taken care of or should they do it themselves? It seems cowardly to complain to the staff, but I am biased.

I did say one thing to the manager. Babies cry, it happens. We were doing what we could to soothe him but he could have stopped or kept going as he wanted. If it is not your child, what you have control over is your response to the crying or your feelings about it. You can be annoyed and call the manager police over to force something to be done about it or you can ignore it and choose not to be annoyed. You can actually decide what your response will be. Perhaps he should have told the complainers that and refreshed their drinks. Maybe they still would have left, maybe they would have stayed and we wouldn't have been asked to leave (in so many words) and I would be telling you how nice dinner was last night, instead of warning you that Bensi is NOT a kid friendly restaurant. How was the food? It was fine, it just had a sharp taste of officiousness to it.


Richard James said...

Iron Hill would have been a good choice- we've taken our daughter there since she was a baby and they've always been welcoming (and the food is good). Six months is the tough zone, though- we had taken Lucy everywhere with us from a month old until about then- movies, museums, restaurants, without any incidents. We did start to have trouble about this time though- but never got this sort of response from management! I agree that it was unacceptable- there were so many better ways to handle it that wouldn't have involved ANYONE leaving- even when Lucy was crying at this age, we only had to cut bait one time, and this was after a couple of other patrons had offered to walk the baby around while we ate!

Richard said...

It didn't even occur to me that other patrons might help with a fussy baby rather than complain. I know I am too biased to offer an opinion. We work through the program (check food, check diaper, burp, fix boredom, check for pain) when Linus is crying, but he doesn't always respond in the same manner. That's what makes him a person I guess.

He has been to museums when younger, he just slept through everything. We had to take him our of the planetarium though, because he woke up. If it is my crying baby in a movie theater, which we haven't done because I don't think we would enjoy the movie, I would take him out. I st8ill thin a restaurant is a different set of criteria, though everyone will have a different set and level.

Richard said...

Matt Hearn, another parent, has his advice at his website.. He thinks that the people complaining and the manager complaining to us were out of line, but he assumes Linus' behavior was not out of control (it wasn't).

Besides his other useful input and advice I especially liked, "Babies cry; that's how they roll"

Anonymous said...


Shame on you Bensi!

Fuck em!

susana said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
lucille said...

I have been in the restaurant business for 26 years, as a server, hostess, manager and owner. Kids are a big part of a family restaurant. Kids that used to come in with parents now come in as adults bringing other customers. But sometimes parents and adults with children show very little respect toward other patrons. Everyone that dines at a family restaurant deserves to have a good experience, whether they are 6 months or 100 years old. But when the atmosphere in the restaurant is being disrupted, something needs to be done. As an owner and parent myself, I always hope that the customer knows best and does the right thing.