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Restaurateur goes viral for adding $50 to parents' bill, saying kids belong ‘at Burger King'—that's bad leadership: Expert

Olga Rolenko | Moment | Getty Images

When a restaurant owner went viral for charging a mother a $50 "unable to parent" fee, allegedly yelling at her when she protested, some people praised him.

Others, including a LinkedIn Learning leadership expert, say it's inappropriate — and an example of what good bosses never do, even when dealing with a stressful environment.

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"Yelling is never appropriate in the workplace. That can be seen as abusive and harassment," Chelsea Jay, a Lansing, Michigan-based leadership coach, tells CNBC Make It. The incident, as described by the mother, shows a "huge lack of communication and clarity" from the restaurant owner, Jay adds.

Here's what happened, and why Jay says every boss should take note and learn from it.

A disagreement at a Georgia restaurant

The mother, Lyndsey Landmann, saw the "adult surcharge" policy written on the menu at Toccoa Riverside Restaurant in Blue Ridge, Georgia, she recently told NBC's "TODAY." Landmann was part of a group of four families, including 11 kids between ages 3 and 8 — and was amazed at how "good" and "well behaved" the children were during the meal, she said.

The restaurant's owner, Tim Richter, seemingly felt differently. He notified Landmann of a $50 charge per bill at their table, because the kids were "too loud," she said.

"I was like, 'They were quiet the whole time.' He got in our faces and told us that we belonged at Burger King and not at his restaurant," said Landmann. "I looked around the restaurant and everybody was frozen, watching this show he was putting on. He was yelling."

The restaurant didn't immediately respond to Make It's request for comment. "We're not going to comment on a policy we've had for years. We just want to live in the woods and cook," an employee told "TODAY."

'Communication needs to be clear across the board'

In this context, the restaurant owner's approach is a poor one, says Jay.

Bosses set the standard for how workplaces run, no matter if it's a restaurant or office. "One of the things that I teach the leaders that I train is that your policies and your communication needs to be clear across the board," Jay says. "There's no areas that need to be gray or left for misinterpretation."

In this case, there's no universal definition of parenting. A vague surcharge that doesn't explain what "unable to parent" means, or provide examples of qualifying behavior, is bound to lead to conflict, says Jay.

A clause like "no disruptive children," or "you will be charged if your child is running around the premises," would be more comprehensible, she adds.

Similarly, in the office, you need standards and guidelines that your employees likely won't misinterpret. The Society for Human Resource Management recommends a five-step approach:

  • a purpose statement describing why you're issuing this policy, and what you hope the outcome will be
  • a specifications section detailing the policy's regulations and requirements
  • an implementation section noting who's responsible for making sure employees follow the policy
  • a date for the policy to take effect
  • a glossary, which clearly defines terms used in the first four sections

If you find yourself upset that your policies aren't being followed — or, worse, you're expressing that emotion by yelling — it may be time for some self-evaluation, says Jay.

"Based on his actions, [the restaurant owner] may be suffering from burnout, where he's in a place of stress or resentment with his organization," she says. "And when you get to that point as a leader, you need to know when to step back and let someone take over temporarily. Because your actions and your behavior are going to trickle down to your employees."

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of NBC and CNBC.

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