Catherine Duke was hanging out at Panera recently with her young daughters, 3-year-old Ana and 2-year-old Emma. As a stay-at-home-mom, she frequented the restaurant as a way to get out of the house (raise your hand if you’ve been there, done that!) and was friendly with many of the employees there. Which is why what happened next is totally weird and not a little bit disconcerting.
Emma suffers from an undiagnosed medical condition that has led to developmental delays — including walking. She didn’t walk until she was 23 months old. Her orthopedist recommended shoes with extra ankle support, which squeak when she walks correctly from heel to toe. The squeaking bothered another customer — and Catherine was asked to remove her daughter’s shoes or leave the restaurant.
OK, I get that squeaking shoes may be slightly annoying, but there are certain things people just need to be compassionate about. For instance, how much cooler would it have been if the customer had offered some support to Catherine and Emma instead of just complaining?
Here’s how the conversation should’ve gone:
Customer: Your daughter is so cute! I can’t help but notice — are her shoes squeaking? Is that the newest style for kids?
Catherine: Thank you! And actually they’re special orthopedic shoes that help her walk correctly. They squeak to let her know she has the correct foot placement, so she can get steadier on her feet. She didn’t walk until she was almost 2 …
Customer: Oh wow! She seems to be doing great! So they squeak all the time? (Offers sympathetic smile)
Catherine: They sure do … I’m so sorry if they’re bothering you …
Customer: Oh not at all! You are an amazing mom to take care of your kids so well. Here, let me buy you a coffee and a cinnamon crunch scone.
At least that’s how it should’ve gone in my head. Everybody being polite and trying to understand one another instead of just being annoyed that the world doesn’t revolve around you.
Anyway, Panera has handled the situation really well, with officials for the chain offering an in-person apology to the Duke family. Emma’s dad Stephen Duke said, “On Saturday, Catherine and Emma met at the restaurant with corporate staff, the employee, and the franchise manager … They apologized and said that is not something Panera does and that they want to be a welcoming store.”
There’s also going to be a fundraiser soon at the Savannah location where the incident occurred, in which 50 percent of the proceeds on a given night will be donated to the Dukes to help cover some of Emma’s medical bills.
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Good job, Panera, at rectifying a crappy situation. And let this be a lesson to us all that we can’t ever know what someone else is going through and to try to refrain from judgment or, you know, having a toddler kicked out of a restaurant because her orthopedic shoes annoy you.
Have you ever been kicked out of a public place because of your kids?