Why? Gia Lai!

***BLOGGER UPDATE: I received a response from Gia Lai. Please click here to read it. Both sides of the story are important!

I have accepted Gia Lai’s apology and consider the matter to be closed. In my blog posts, the comments section, and on social media, I have said all I feel needs to be said on this matter. I understand there may be further opinions expressed in both support and disagreement, but I will no longer be replying to comments. ***

So, this is not your typical restaurant post. And this is absolutely not what I wanted my first real post about being a mom to be about. But, I have to share what happened to Jeffrey and me last night at Gia Lai in Legacy Village.

After finishing my dinner, I needed to breastfeed Jeffrey. I moved to an unoccupied back booth (which had extra napkins, silverware, etc. to make up for other tables, so it wasn’t going to be used for patrons), put on my nursing cover, and started feeding him. While breastfeeding while out can be a challenge with wiggly babies and trying to keep everything discreet, everything was going remarkably well.

I was soon approached by the bartender, who said, “Can I help you?” When I explained that I was nursing, she turned and walked away without saying anything. A few minutes later, a member of the kitchen staff came out and said that this table was “the silverware table.” I’m still trying to figure how someone from the back of the house even knew I was at that table.

I explained that I was nursing and was trying to be as discreet as possible. He kept standing there, so I asked if I needed to leave. The closest patrons to the table even told him that I wasn’t bothering them, but to no avail. He said yes and walked away.

I was shocked and embarrassed. I stopped nursing (cue hysterical crying from Jeffrey…how would you feel having food ripped out of your mouth?) and immediately left, leaving my Mom to pay the bill and try to sort out what happened. I wandered down Legacy Village with my nursing cover still on and a sobbing baby…I was quite the sight! In the moment, I just wanted to get to a more comfortable spot, so I didn’t even think about protesting my eviction.

Luckily, Lilly Pulitzer, where I had been earlier in the evening, was gracious enough to provide a fitting room and be nothing short of completely wonderful and hospitable. “We love moms,” they explained.

When I caught up with Mom, she said that the bartender who first approached me was the manager on duty, but offered no explanation or accommodation, simply saying she would talk to the employee and that she wasn’t in charge. I have contact information for the manager who was not there and have sent an email to him. I’ll certainly update with his response.

Since Jeffrey has been born, I’ve taken him all over the place from Market Garden Brewery to Townhall to the Taste of Tremont. Up until last night, everywhere we’ve gone has been welcoming and comfortable. As important as it is to know where are “baby friendly” places, I can honestly say that everywhere we’ve been except Gia Lai is baby friendly.

The irony is that if GIa Lai was trying to avoid any sort of embarrassment or scene, what was more likely to cause that? A woman quietly and discreetly breastfeeding in a back booth? Or said woman having to stop nursing and leave the restaurant with a sobbing baby? Even if you don’t respect breastfeeding or the moms that do it, I would think the path of least resistance would have been the better choice.

I want to pass on my story, so hopefully other moms can avoid a similar experience. Hat tip to Amanda for passing along the links to where you can post reviews and comments about Gia Lai: http://www.opentable.com/gia-lai

If this all seems wrong to you, let Gia Lai know with your comments and your dollars. Similarly, let Lilly Pulitzer feel the love for being so great and open! And thank you for all the supportive comments and tweets!

Breastfeeding is tough. It’s a commitment. While Jeffrey sometimes takes a bottle of breast milk, I prefer to directly breastfeed when I can. It’s better for him and for me (I’ll spare you all the details for those unfamiliar). I was just getting to a point of feeling comfortable breastfeeding in public. I stopped making sure my outings were scheduled to avoid feeding times or running to the car to breastfeed. I was never ashamed of breastfeeding, but I was worried about other people reacting badly. Then I told myself I was just being silly; that anyone I would encounter would understand and respect breastfeeding. And then I found out I was wrong.

I never want Jeffrey to be the object of derision. I know this is unrealistic, but at 8 weeks old, I can still make that happen. I can protect him. And last night, I was unable to protect him from other people’s ignorance and meanness. He doesn’t know it, but I do.


40 Responses

  1. Thank you, Jen, for sharing this. What an awful experience! I have to assure you and your readers that I have found Cleveland to be very friendly to breastfeeding. I have three young children, and have (discreetly) breastfed my babies all over town – innumerable restaurants, church, the zoo, the Rapid train, museums, you name it. Not once was I approached or scolded and a few times another mother actually said something like “good for you!” (Which was vaguely embarrassing in its own way 🙂 )

    So keep on keeping on, young mothers, and don’t be discouraged. It is ridiculous to expect a mother to disappear whenever her baby is hungry. Motherhood doesn’t mean having to leave the table – in so many ways.

  2. I am so sorry that happened to you! I can’t believe how poorly that was handled, especially with a manager! I will definitely not be visiting that restaurant.

  3. I am so sorry this happened to you. I’ve been breastfeeding my son for 1 year and I’ve never run into a situation like this. I’m not sure if I’d collapse in tears or react in anger, but I imagine it would be a mix of both. Luckily, we live in an area full of wonderful choices. So, now that we know Gia Lia is unkind to responsible, respectful parents, we can all easily avoid them and advise each of our friends to do the same. Someday soon, my son will wean and I’ll go on dates with my husband and friends more regularly, I’ll be sure to choose another restaurant, whether we have a child in tow or not.

    Again, I am sorry that your outing was ruined. I know how important those experiences can be to your overall well being at this stage.

  4. I’m so sorry you went through that experience, but I commend you 1,000 times over for sticking with it and finding a welcoming place in Lilly Pulitzer. Our second child is just now 5 months, and we’re still going strong nursing. I was like you in the beginning with “scheduling” trips out with our first around when she might be hungry. Like you, I was able to get more comfortable. All I can say is that I try to be discreet and never have had a problem anywhere around Cleveland, and we take our girls everywhere we can. You are doing what’s best for both of you, and I hope you keep it up! There are plenty of people who will support you out there and who will make up for the few bad seeds that tend to stick out.

  5. This whole post makes me really angry. I’m so frustrated that happened to you. People are such idiots. I get it, it’s a boob, but you can’t see it so why do you care? I’ve tried to mentally prep my answer for if/when this situation occurs me with. My husband gave me the best line possible: “F**k off, ugly”. He said that should be an end to it rather quickly. 😉 Keep us updated if you hear anything back from “upper management”.

  6. Dad

    Did they ask you to leave? Or did they just ask you to leave the silverware table? I know that there are lots of issues with feeding in public, but from what you’ve written here, it sounds like you just took over a work space like you owned the place and got mad when you were asked to go back to your own table and get out of the way of the employees.

    1. They asked me to just leave, not to return to my own table. There was no accommodation offered and no one was using the table. I appreciate your point and I would have been fine with relocating if need be.

      1. mike

        I’d wager that if someone sat there to talk on their phone, they wouldn’t have been asked to leave.

      2. Dad

        Did they really ask you to leave the restaurant? Or did they ask you to leave the table? Your writing isn’t terribly clear, but I read it like this (parentheticals are the subtext I get from what you wrote).

        Bartender: “What are you doing? (Over here at the silverware table.)”
        Jen: “I’m just breastfeeding my baby, Jeffrey. (I didn’t want to do it completely in public, so I took over this workspace where all the clean silverware is, so if there is an accident, you will have to clean it all again. Because what I am doing is far more important than your business or time.)”
        Guy: comes over and stares at you for a minute (this is to let you know that you are doing something impolite and you should stop)
        Jen: “(Like I told the less confrontational person who tried to get me to move already), I am breastfeeding my baby (in this inappropriate location in your restaurant.)”
        Guy: “This is the silverware table, (Not the breastfeeding table, or the table for you to use. Yours is over there.)
        Nosy guy at other table: She’s not bothering me, (because I also do not care about you or your restaurant, and I might get lucky and see some boobs.)
        Jen: Do I need to leave (the restaurant)?
        Guy: Yes. (Leave the silverware table.)

      3. I appreciate that is your read of a situation you were not in. I was asked to leave, not relocate. If this is a misunderstanding, it could have been cleared up at any point by restaurant staff.

  7. Nikki

    Being a new mom – this infuriates me! Good for you for breastfeeding and feeling comfortable enough to do so in public! I can tell you one thing, as a mother, and a nursing mother, I will not be frequenting or promoting Gia Lai! Thank you for the info!!

  8. Hi Jen! We are sorry to hear about the incident that took place at Gia Lai last night and have reached out to their corporate office. Legacy Village prides itself on being family friendly and welcoming to everyone that patronizes our shops and restaurants. We like to think of ourselves as more than just your average shopping destination, but rather a gathering place for the community, as we host over 100 special events each year, the majority of which are geared towards families and children. We are thrilled to hear that Lilly Pulitzer here at Legacy Village was able to step in and help make an uncomfortable situation a little better and are confident that the other retailers here at LV would have done the same. It is our hope that you won’t allow this incident to change your views and/or opinions of Legacy Village as a whole. Thank you for making us aware of this situation.

  9. Johnny

    Why use a table that you KNEW was used to store clean silverware and misc. sundries for other patrons? Breast feeding is as natural as breathing air but like you pointed out babies squirm and accidents happen.

  10. Johnny

    I can appreciate that. I can also appreciate the restaurant not wanting a booth they used to hold clean dinnerware being used by anyone. I think everyone can appreciate that they chose poorly in the way they handled the entire situation.

    1. Colleen

      That may be true but if that was the case, there is a way you can explain that to someone without being rude or insensitive. If that were the reason and if they had explained that and maybe suggested another place she could go, the whole situation could have been resolved.

      1. Johnny

        Honestly? If you can’t figure out that breast feeding at a booth that holds clean, ready to be used silverware for every patron in the establishment shouldn’t be done then nothing an employee would say is going to make you happy.

      2. Colleen

        Lol. Its not like breastmilk is spraying around the room like a firehose. I am a germaphobe and i agree that its maybe not sanatary in case the baby poops/spits up/dribbles. But ok – then you move the silverware that got dirty. No harm done. And most likely it would just end up on her and not the top of the table. I think its gross (and unprofessional) to have silverwear laying out on a public table in the first place. Anyone could sneeze or cough as they are walking by. But thats besides the point. I was only saying that its about communication. Ask nicely. No reason to be rude to her. I disagree that b/c she chose to nurse at the table means that means she wouldnt be receptive to being asked to move.

    2. Now that you mention it, I think I’d be more comfortable if all restaurants kept their clean, exposed dinnerware in a more sterile environment than an unused table. I’ve always considered this practice unsightly- now I also consider it unsanitary. I’m picturing nearby diners sneezing and coughing all over the clean silverware. Gross! (That’s as likely a scenario as breastmilk flying through a cloth cover into the air. Nursing 8 week old babes don’t like to waste a drop,)

  11. Jill (@bonnjill)

    I agree that it was probably viewed as a health issue by the restaurant since it was a table with unused silverware. Breastfeeding in public aside or whether it is sanitary, I would definitely file breast milk in the bodily fluids category. I understand that you were probably careful, but the restaurant doesn’t know you and doesn’t know that you would be extra-careful. Some people wouldn’t be.

    I would also like to suggest that perhaps cultural and language issues were at play here. Gia Lai is a Vietnamese restaurant. The Vietnamese people come off as being very brusk when they speak. Could you have possible taken it for more rude than they meant to be?

  12. kenzie

    As someone who served in college and still serves part time I thought I would give my two cents. It appears Jen was trying to be as discreet as unobtrusive as possible but inadvertanly wound up at a table the staff uses to work. Servers must roll silverware as part of their duties before they go home and probably got frustrated that they could not do that while Jen and Jeffrey were there. What the restaurant should have done was remove the silverware and napkins until she was done (I’m not a big fan of rolling silverware in front of guests) or nicely suggested another area/booth for Jen. She should not have been asked to leave. I have a mother who frequently comes and sits in my section and breastfeeds at the table and it has never been an issue for staff or guests. Hopefully, this will be a teachable moment for Gia Lai and other restaurants.

  13. Wow, such a crazy situation. It seems the main problem was communication. On the one side, if you asked your server of the possibility of sitting at that booth (due to the silverware thing), management could have been alerted and some solution could have been worked out. That said, it doesn’t excuse (by any means) their lack of communication to you. They sounded rude and short and – if they were so upset to ask you to leave – they should have provided you with an explanation of why in the least. (in fact, their reaction makes me feel that they would NOT have come up with a solution, but that’s my opinion)
    If I would have been a customer to witness what happened, I would have argued with the staff then and there (and perhaps made a scene at the restaurant itself). And that’s the truth 🙂
    Sorry about what happened. I say you march a band a breast feeding mothers in there and start a baby buffet!

  14. Odin's Dad

    Ignorance is bliss. There must be some really damn happy restaurant people in this world because this seems to happen more and more. As for using an open area for clean silverware and linens, what’s the point of having a booth/table for that? Are your sales not good enough that you don’t need every table? It’s just as unsanitary for those materials to be out in the open like that in public access as it is for someone to be sitting next to them breastfeeding. I’m sure tens of people walk by them coughing and sneezing daily, so to chastise this mother for trying to be respectful to everyone is ridiculous.

  15. This whole thing irked me. Sorry you had to deal with such a bad nursing experience when it is already hard enough.
    I enjoyed and may have laughed at some of the responses on here…sounds like it may be an employee commenting…

  16. Adam

    Johnny July 24, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    Honestly? If you can’t figure out that breast feeding at a booth that holds clean, ready to be used silverware for every patron in the establishment shouldn’t be done then nothing an employee would say is going to make you happy.

    Jen @ Why CLE? Post authorJuly 24, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    Again, I appreciate that that’s your take on the situation.

    How is that Johnny’s take on the situation? Whether or not you were trying to be discreet, or regardless of what happened vis-a-vis the restaurant’s employees, you still sat at a table with clean, ready to be used silverware and breastfed your baby. I’m all for women breastfeeding in public. I just don’t think it’s sanitary to do so around silverware intended for future patrons of a restaurant.

  17. Adam

    How hard would it have been when the male employee asked you to leave, to say, you mean the table or the restaurant? I don’t know, it feels like this whole situation got blown out of proportion when it didn’t have to be (and I’m saying that under the assumption that when you were told to leave you didn’t ask whether he meant the table or the restaurant).

    1. There was misinterpretation and miscommunication all the way around. My interpretation from being in the situation was that I was to leave the restaurant. I was flustered and embarrassed. It was not handled perfectly on either side.

  18. Anne

    Miscommunication? How about NO communication on your side? If someone had asked me to leave, I would have wanted clarification. Did they mean the table or the restaurant? I would have asked. It seems to me like you want to put yourself out there as some champion of breastfeeding women but in the heat of the moment, while breastfeeding, you were flustered and embarrassed? Why?

    1. Colleen

      Wow. Harsh. Then that’s your personality but that doesn’t mean everyone would react the same way in that situation. I can’t speak for Jen but i can relate. Not everyone is great at confrontation. I myself am a new nurser who used to try to schedule feeds to be at home and have recently taken baby steps to nurse in public. I’d have gone to a more discrete location in a restaurant also. In fact, at this point I probably would have gone to my car so I give her credit for staying where she did. Its just where I’m at comfort-wise with NIP. Given that, if someone had come up to me, I too would have gotten embarrassed and flustered, assumed they meant leave the restaurant. and would have just left. It’s just a personality thing for me. I think its great she’s admitting that there was miscommunication.

      1. Anne

        I guess it is a personality thing. I wasn’t trying to be harsh but I guess it came across that way. Let’s be champions of breastfeeding in public by not backing down when someone confronts us! We have nothing to be embarrassed or flustered by, regardless of our personalities.

      2. Anne, thanks for the clarification! Thanks to both you and Colleen for the comments. Like Colleen, I’m finding my comfort with nursing in public. In the moment, my first thought was finding a better place for Jeffrey to nurse. The realization that my rights were being unfairly challenged hit later. But I agree about communicating better when confronted.

  19. Colleen

    Anne – I totally agree. We all have to work together. I am all for women being allowed to nurse in public and i realize that the more I shy away and hide when I nurse, the more ‘they’ win 🙂 Its baby steps. I had to nurse in church the other weekend and even though I went into the back of the cry room, it was still a huge step for me! I also wish I could be more like you and be more direct with confrontation to stand up for myself. I’m one of those people that think of the right thing to say a half hour later. Lol.

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