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Dear Care and Feeding,
I am a barista at a major coffee chain. I’m in my mid-20s, I don’t have kids of my own, and I’m a little confused about a “normal” child-rearing practice as I came from a frankly dysfunctional and strange background.
Sometimes, at work, particularly on warmer evenings or during school breaks, a roving pack of pre-teens will appear in the store unaccompanied by any adults. They continually leave trash everywhere—including food wrappers from other restaurants and random napkins—and have a strange habit of taking up both bathrooms in groups of three to five at once, but I never hear the toilets flush or the hand dryer run. They just walk in, sometimes one group member will lie down on the floor (!?) outside the bathroom door, and then they all wander back out a couple minutes later. They are also extremely loud and don’t seem to have a great understanding of how ordering food or drink works (particularly that $5 doesn’t go very far these days). One tried to barter for a food item with an empty gift card on their last visit.
My question is: At what point can I, as an employee, say, “Where are your parents?” and/or “Why are you occupying the bathrooms and preventing other customers/employees from using them for their intended purpose?” and/or “Please leave.” My shift supervisors never seem to know either, so having outside advice would help.
—I’m a Barista, Not a Babysitter
Dear Not a Babysitter,
I can’t advise you on what your employer would deem to be the right way to handle these young people, but I can give you some tips on interacting with kids as an authority figure. Also, I’m not sure what your company’s policy is about people hanging out in the store without making a purchase (or eating food purchased elsewhere). For example, Starbucks considers anyone who enters their locations to be a “customer,” whether they make a purchase or not. Coffee shops have generally been a safe place for people to hang out, with or without money to spend.
However, that doesn’t mean you need to give these kids a pass for being disruptive. You have the right to stop them from going into the bathroom three to five kids deep. Explain that the bathrooms are intended to be used by one person and that they are preventing other customers from using them; you should monitor them when they go to the bathroom in the first place. You can also speak to them—in a stern voice—about their noise level and about leaving a mess. Say, “Excuse me, but I need you guys to keep your volume down” or “We’d appreciate it if you didn’t leave trash on the table.” Be firm, and remember that you are the authority figure in this situation, so you are well within your rights to correct their behavior.
Also, I would consider asking a manager (perhaps a general manager or someone more senior than the shift supervisors) if it is OK for you to ask the kids to leave if they are misbehaving, which I imagine is allowed. There’s no need to ask about their parents, who obviously have left them to their own devices. Try not to get overly frustrated with yourself, or these kids, if they don’t listen; teens can be complete jackasses sometimes, and some of them conduct themselves horribly in public. It’s not personal and it’s not a reflection on you.
More Advice From Slate
I am a 32-year-old mother to a beautiful, inquisitive, and whip-smart 4-year-old daughter. Her father and I both come from “traditional” households where children were to be seen and not heard, expected to accept whatever our parents told us to do or believe without question, and were punished swiftly for any insubordinate behavior. However, that is not how we want our child (and any future children) to be raised.