Twenty years ago, I waited tables. It never occurred to me, at least back in those days, that I should do anything more than take my patrons’ orders and deliver their food to them. I even remember serving a glass of champagne to a visibly pregnant guest. The reason I remember it was because her companion had asked for strawberries to go with the champagne and our kitchen didn’t have any whole ones. I got punished by the guests for that, but I still served the alcohol. Things must have changed since the late 1990s. I keep reading stories about meddlesome restaurant servers who think they know better than their guests do.
Several years ago, I read a news story about 28 year old mom Tasha Adams, of Toad Suck, Arkansas. Toad Suck is a “dry town”, which means that you can’t buy alcohol there. Adams and her friends had gone to Gusano’s, a restaurant in Conway, Arkansas, where alcohol is not banned. They had just been to a funeral and were having dinner. Adams had her eight month old baby, Ana, with her and was drinking alcohol. She was also breastfeeding Ana.
Jackie Conners, an off duty waitress, decided that it wasn’t right for Tasha Adams to drink while breastfeeding. She claimed the party was “having a good time, drinking” and ignoring the baby, whom she said was fussing. Conners spoke to the manager about the party, but the manager decided not to cut them off. So Conners called the police, who showed up and arrested Adams for “drinking while breastfeeding”. Adams stated that she didn’t know that was illegal. It turns out, in fact, Arkansas law did not forbid drinking while breastfeeding. The charges against Adams were dropped and Conners was fired from her job. Still, Adams and her baby had to go through an ordeal before the matter was settled. I’m sure it was distressing and humiliating.
I was interested in this case because I find it disturbing on many levels, watching random strangers getting involved in the personal choices pregnant or nursing women make for themselves. Indeed, even if someone just thinks you might be pregnant, they might make a comment or even call the authorities if you do something they think might harm a developing fetus. When the police come, they could end up arresting someone. In Tasha Adams’ case, the cops weren’t sure if what she was doing was illegal, so they made a judgment call and ran her in, anyway. Adams likely can’t forget the experience of being arrested simply for enjoying adult beverages with her friends. She had no idea what she was doing was wrong and, in fact, it wasn’t wrong in the eyes of the law.
It’s chilling what can happen when someone makes a judgment based on incomplete information. I wrote a comprehensive article on my old blog about this case from 2014. Things haven’t changed in five years. In fact, it seems like they’ve gotten worse.
In fact, I just read another story about a waiter who made an “executive decision” on behalf of a woman he or she simply believed might be pregnant. The tale, which originally appeared on Reddit, was from someone who has been waiting tables for three years. A party of four women sat at the server’s table. They were “a pleasure” to serve, and started off with a round of cocktails, then perused the menu. The server, whose gender identity is never clear, overheard one of the women mention that she was “14 weeks along”. He or she got the impression that the guest was pregnant, based on what her or she had overheard and observed.
The server figured one drink was “no big deal”, and went about his or her business. But then the group ordered another round, which caused the server some concern. The waiter went to the bartender and asked him to make one of the cocktails a virgin. When the bartender questioned the server, the server just asked him to “trust him or her”. The party had several cocktails and got “rowdy”, including the supposedly pregnant woman. The server figured the woman didn’t notice that she’d been drinking virgin cocktails all night. Obviously, he or she thought they were going to get away with their deception.
But then the women asked for separate checks. The bartender had identified the cocktails for the “pregnant woman” as virgins, since he had to account for the alcohol, and it was too late for the waiter to edit the receipts. The “pregnant” woman and her party left, but then they looked at their receipts and noticed the word “virgin” on hers. The supposedly pregnant woman came back into the restaurant and asked what “virgin” meant, and the waiter explained that virgin means “non-alcoholic”. The guest asked the waiter if she had ordered non-alcoholic cocktails, and the waiter said he or she figured that’s what she’d want, since she was pregnant. Naturally, the guest was wicked pissed. She demanded that her part of the tip be returned. Then she spoke to the manager, who then yelled at the server.
The server said they didn’t want to be responsible for causing fetal alcohol syndrome. The restaurant manager said that the server had made them liable for discrimination charges and that they could get into serious trouble.
While servers certainly can and should cut people off when they get noticeably hammered, it’s not their place to make executive decisions for other people’s orders, particularly without their consent. Moreover, someone who is at a real risk of having a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome is not going to be deterred by a well-meaning but intrusive server. Someone who is pregnant and doesn’t care about what they will look like drinking alcohol in public will certainly drink at home. Aside from that, the customer apparently never verified that she was pregnant. It’s possible that the server misunderstood the situation. He or she was not a party to the conversation that was overheard and it’s very likely the information received was totally out of context.
I understand moral dilemmas regarding serving alcohol to the pregnant people among us, especially in the United States. In the United States, healthcare professionals do not recommend drinking alcohol while pregnant. However, the booze free pregnancy mantra is not necessarily practiced worldwide. Interestingly enough, in some areas, it’s not drinking booze that is frowned upon for pregnant women.
When Bill and I visited France a few years ago, a waiter thought I might be pregnant and was concerned because I’d ordered beef. He had nothing to say about the red wine I was drinking. Needless to say, I was really pissed off that he had questioned my order based on an assumption he made due to my appearance. Yes, I do have a gut, but it’s caused by beer, not baby. And no, you don’t need to ask me about it. If I want to eat beef or drink wine, it’s entirely my business… but I did take heart in knowing that at least I still looked young enough to conceive. I probably don’t anymore, since I let my hair go natural.
Most pregnant people are adults with the same rights every other adult has. They can make their own decisions without input from non-involved people who don’t know the situation. It’s not for another person to preemptively decide for another person what is best for them. It usually doesn’t happen to people who aren’t pregnant, but for some reason, society seems to deem pregnant women as needing special help and “parental guidance”.
Personally, I think the waiter in this story should have been fired immediately. I also think people need to mind their own business when it comes to situations like these, unless there is an obvious need to intervene. I hope the customer got a full refund for those mocktails, since they were not what she ordered. Also… I am really glad I have retired from waiting tables so I don’t have to deal with these situations.