Christchurch cafe owner attacked for asking squealing babies to be quietened

Ris'tretto owner Madeleine de Jong says she's heartened by her customers' support.
STACY SQUIRES/STUFF

Ris'tretto owner Madeleine de Jong says she's heartened by her customers' support.

A cafe owner who asked a group of mothers to quieten their squealing babies says she has been attacked on social media in retaliation.

Ris'tretto Cafe owner Madeleine de Jong, in Christchurch, says the Wednesday incident has shocked her and she believes the attacks on social media are unfair and untrue

They include a posting on restaurant review website Zomato that says: "If you like being publicly yelled at by the manager that makes your daughter cry - this is the place for you."

The cafe's own Facebook was also used to criticise de Jong, accusing her of acting in a rude and condescending manner.

Ris'tretto Cafe in St Albans Christchurch where the mums and bubs incident took place.
EWAN SARGENT/STUFF

Ris'tretto Cafe in St Albans Christchurch where the mums and bubs incident took place.

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In another post, a mum said: "Will never be coming back again as they kicked me and the rest of my mothers group out in the freezing rain with our babies."

But many of de Jong's customers have sided with her, filling her page with messages of support.

The group of seven mothers and babies aged 9 to 11 months met at the St Albans cafe at 1pm on Wednesday. De Jong said the incident happened about 3pm.


Happy babies in a mural on Ris'tretto's wall.
EWAN SARGENT/STUFF

Happy babies in a mural on Ris'tretto's wall.

De Jong said the babies' high-pitched screaming and squealing was interfering with everyone's conversation and that customers were leaving telling her, "I can't handle this".

"Unfortunately some parents don't understand that not everything their children do is sunshine. Not everything is perfect. And what for one parent is absolutely amazing in their child expressing itself, for other people in a public place ... if you drop your children in a kids' area and they are distraught and they scream their head off, and this was going for a long time.

"I let it go, I let it go, I let it go … till I saw the mothers laughing about it and not acting. Then I thought, 'no, my customers are leaving, people cannot have conversations'. 

"I asked the girls politely, 'hey girls, normal noise is acceptable but this high squealing is a little bit too much'. These were my exact words. And I think these young mothers took offence that I didn't like their children, or that I dared to say something to them. I don't know."

De Jong says the mums put the babies on their laps and the noise stopped. She thought everything was OK. 

Then one of the women came to her and said she had just lost seven customers.

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"I very naively said where? I thought the situation was fixed. Then she told me she was going to badmouth me on social media. She said I was throwing them out and I said 'no I'm not'. I went back to the group and said 'hey girls you don't have to go'.

"I know the mothers very well. They are regular customers. It's incredibly disappointing."

One of the mothers, Tracey Wyllie, posted her side of it on the Ris'tretto Facebook page.

In the post, which has since been deleted, de Jong said she told the group she didn't mind "normal baby noises", but their babies' noise level was "unacceptable".

"One of our party went to talk to her about it but ended up coming back to the group because her baby got upset. The manager's 'polite action' involved charging after her and continuing to upset her baby (even when asked to stop) so that she could have the last word," the mother wrote.

Wyllie said de Jong spoke in a "rude and condescending" manner. She wrote that de Jong told them they could stay, but said the group didn't feel welcome and also other customers were speaking rudely to them. So the group left, even though it was raining heavily.

De Jong says bad ratings and warnings about her began appearing on ratings sites and her Facebook page. She contacted her lawyer, the chamber of commerce and the hospitality association asking what to do. She was advised to respond and put her side because the attacks were affecting her ratings. 

De Jong said Ris'tretto Cafe was and would always be a child-friendly cafe.

"We pride ourselves on our free kids' area, our free babycinos and our sponsorship of the Big Brother-Big Sister project and our suspended coffee initiative."

De Jong said she was heartened by the support of other customers who had backed her. 

Tracey Wyllie has been contacted for further comment. 

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 - Stuff

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