Okay, I'm starting at the beginning, because stories need back stories to make sense.
I am visiting my family in the Tri-City, Washington area. It was my little brother's graduation so I decided now would be a great time to come. The Hubby had to work so he stayed home and pulled in some overtime. On Father's Day The Hubby drove up for a visit, but he left Wednesday morning in order to be home in time for his shift that night. So Tuesday night we embarked to the only Red Robin in the area, situated in Kennewick, for a date.
Of course, it was a three-way date, considering that Doozer is too young to go very long without eating. Red Robin had been one of our favorite date spots, but I hadn't had Red Robin burger in a long time due to the fact their original Boca patties contained cheese. I was very excited for our date since Red Robin has recently started offering Vegan Boca Patties.
We ordered our food and started enjoying a toddler-free evening. Doozer became fussy near the beginning of our date. It was her tired/hungry fuss, which always turns into a full blown scream if not attended to quickly.
I started to nurse her my usual way, by lifting up the hem of my shirt. This time it made me very uncomfortable to do so, because:
1) We were seated at a booth, so in order for Doozer to be in the right position she had to be above the table, and
2) I was wearing a tighter knit shirt.
The combination of the nursing position and shirt design made it so my shirt was pulled way up, exposing most of my midriff and part of my back. That made me feel very undressed, so I opted to instead breastfeed with my breast pulled over my neckline, somewhat like this picture, but I had sleeves on my shirt and my neckline wasn't so low. My shirt, when normally viewed, showed no cleavage. Doozer often had her arm covering the top of my breast, and the way she was position covered even more skin. I did not use a blanket or other cover. I have reasons for this:
1) I feel it's disrespectful for the little person at my breast to cover them up in a hot, stuffy blanket so others, particularly mature adults, can feel more comfortable.
2) I know people will not become accustomed to breastfeeding unless they see it, so I feel I'm doing my part to spread awareness and eventually acceptance.
3) In Doozer's particular case she has had RSV plus two more colds. Her breathing is not always the best and when she nurses I become awfully worried sometimes that she's not getting enough oxygen since her nose is so stuffed up. I'm not going to add to the problem by throwing a blanket over her head or have cloth too close to her nose.
About halfway through our meal, after the waitress had suggested another basket of fries, the manager came up. As soon as I had seen him my heart sank. Here was the conversation:
Manager: I'm very sorry to be bothering you, but do you have a blanket you can use to cover up? We've had a complaint. The is a family restaurant and so it would be nice if you could cover up.
The Hubby: It's my wife's legal right to nurse wherever she wants to.
Manager: I understand that, but this is a family restaurant. I have a shirt in the back.
The Hubby: (dumbfounded look)
Me: No, in that case, we'll just leave.
Manager: I'm really sorry, but this is a family restaurant.
The Hubby: Can we get some boxes for our food?
Manager: Of course. I'm sorry.
He didn't give any alternative to covering up, and his demeanor was such that I felt his next question would be one asking us to leave, hence why I offered to leave. I was so angry and embarrassed I didn't get the manager's name. He brought out boxes, we eventually got our check, and we left. The rest of our date consisted of hanging out in my sister's basement watching "Glee" and complaining.
Wednesday Morning, after The Hubby left for his four-hour-drive home I hopped on my Facebook account and updated my status to this (names have been changed to my blog nicknames):
"Went on a date last night with [The Hubby] to the Kennewick Red Robin. Left after the manager came up to us and asked us if we had a blanket I could use while I was nursing [Doozer]. [The Hubby] said it was our legal right to nurse anywhere we wanted, but I guess the manager didn't get that memo."
Well, the number of comments I received far exceeded my expectations. As of right now it's up to 145 comments. My good friend looked up Washington State's specific law on breastfeeding and found this:
"Breastfeeding mothers are protected under state anti-discrimination law, and can breastfeed their children in public places such as restaurants, pools, theaters,
government buildings, museums, libraries, busses, or parks. No one, including business owners or employees can tell a mother to leave, go to the restroom, or cover the child."
Here is article talking about the civil rights law. The article also discusses other civil rights laws passed in Washington. Here is the law about who cannot be discriminated against in public places. Here is a good question-and-answer about public breastfeeding for establishments and mothers.
After hearing about the law and reading all the comments posted by my friends I realized I needed to follow up with Red Robin. First I contacted the Kennewick Red Robin to get the name of the manager (later it turned out that through an innocent mistake they gave me the wrong name). Then I called their Guest Relations and left a message. They called me back and told me they were going the pass the matter onto their Regional Manager. They also told me my friend had called to tell them telling them how upset she was at how I was treated. There was some confusion since my friend and I have the same last name, they thought she was family.
A few hours later the Regional manager called me. The conversation went like this:
Regional Manager: I am so so sorry this happened to you! Can you tell me what happened?
Me: My husband and I decided to go on a date with our 3.5 month old daughter. We were excited to go to Red Robin because you now have the vegan Boca patties. While we were there I was feeding my daughter without a cover. The manager came over and asked me to cover up and that someone had complained. My husband told him it was my legal right to nurse. The manager said that was right, but could I still cover up, he had a shirt I could use. We said no, we'll just leave, and we did.
RM: I'm so sorry that happened. I know the manager in question and he's going to be so embarrassed. I'm sure he didn't know your rights.
Me: I understand, but my husband told him it was my legal right.
RM: Well, I'm sure that because he had gotten complaints. We will tell him it's the law that you can breastfeed. I'm really sorry this happened. But it's hard because it is a family restaurant. And we can't expect all the managers to know all the laws about breastfeeding.
Me: I understand that, but it's the law.
RM: I know, but there are children that go to Red Robin and it's now summer vacation so a lot of families are going.
Me: I understand your position, some people are uncomfortable seeing breastfeeding in public, but the law says I can do it anywhere, anytime and any way I want to and business owners or employees cannot ask me to move, leave, or cover up.
RM: I know, and we are going to inform the manager about your rights. But if there are three tables that complain, how can we shun those three tables to make one family happy? This is a family restaurant and we need to make it friendly for families.
Me: I understand your position, but it's the law that I can breastfeed uncovered.
RM: Well, we're really sorry about what happened and we want to make it up to you and we want you to come back and have a better experience. We want to send you a gift card.
The rest of the conversation consisted of the manager getting my information to send me a gift card. She also asked me about my friend who called in. She thought we were family somehow. I told her we were good friends who happened to marry men with the same last name. These are the problems I had with this apology:
1) Although I do not doubt the fact she was sorry this happened she still conveyed the feeling that she felt the Kennewick manager was in the right.
2) She did not fully expect her managers to know the local laws.
3) She told me only the single manager was going to be informed, not all of them.
4) She did not assure me that this wouldn't happen in the future. In fact, quite the opposite, I got the feeling that it WOULD happen again if other patrons complained about a breastfeeding mother.
So where I am now is considering a nurse-in at Red Robin. Not a screaming, ranting, sign-waving, every-breast-uncovered nurse-in. Rather I would like it to be a peaceful, thought-provoking experience where mothers come and nurse however they are comfortable whenever their babies need it. I want to show not only Red Robin but their patrons that breastfeeding is normal and not offensive. I want them to see it so they get used to it. Maybe it'll give the Red Robin staff a chance to use their new PR skills.
Update 06/24/2010: I got a call from Liz at corporate at 10:00am today. It was a very positive phone call! Here's the conversation that took place:
Liz: First off, is now a good time to talk? I know you're a mom and really busy.
Me: Yeah, now is good, my littlest is asleep and the older one is watching TV with his uncle.
Liz: Okay. We are so sorry about what happened the other day. There's a lot of information about what happened and I wanted to hear it from you. Is that okay?
Me: Yes, that's just fine. Tuesday night I went on a date with my husband. We had my daughter with me and she got hungry so I started to feed her. At first I was pulling my shirt up but since we were at a booth it was really awkward and I was really exposed. Being in that position made my shirt be in my armpits. So I decided to bring my breast over my neckline and nurse that way. Then the manager came up to us and said somebody had complained and asked us to cover up. I said no and my husband informed the manager that it was my legal right to nurse wherever I wanted. The manager said he understood that but this was a family restaurant and he had a shirt I could use to cover up. I said we would just leave.
Yesterday I posted about my experience on Facebook and started talking to my friends about it. One of my friends found out the law in Washington is that managers, business owners, or employees cannot ask a woman to leave, stop breastfeeding, or cover up. I knew that my right to breastfeed was protected but I thought that a manager could ask you to leave. Once I learned the full extent of the law I contacted Red Robin's Guest Services about it. I got a call from Guest Services telling me they would have the Regional Director call me.
She did call me, and I'm sorry, but I don't remember her name. She told me she was sorry, and that she was going to talk to the manager who had talked to me, and that they were sending me a gift card. However, she also said that it's not really the job of the managers to learn the laws. She also didn't give me any assurance it wouldn't happen again. She said that the managers are supposed to make the majority happy, so if a lot of people complain about a breastfeeding that the manager would probably talk to the breastfeeding mom about covering up. I feel that's not good enough. So, yeah, that's what's been going on.
Liz: Well, I again wanted to say how sorry I am that this happened. I'm a mom who has breastfed and I know how important it is. Moms who are breastfeeding should be able to feed their babies wherever they need to. The manager was in the wrong and we are going to instigate a company wide training to teach about what to do when customers complain about breastfeeding.
Me: I think that sounds like a great idea, that would be wonderful.
Liz: We have training for our managers already to train them on local laws and such, we contract with an independent third party to do our training. We will be sure to make an emphasis on breastfeeding training. We'll start immediately at the Kennewick Red Robin, but I want to let you know it's going to take a little bit of time to implement it nationwide.
Me: I understand, it's a big company. I'm glad you're implementing this.
Liz: Now, I want to make it very clear that I'm not making excuses, but it's a very sticky situation for our managers to deal with. It's hard to make everyone happy. Do you have any ideas on how to help?
Me: Yes, I do. First of all, there is a website for Washington breastfeeding laws that offers little cards you can print out. Mothers can use them to inform others about their rights and managers can give them to customers who complain to explain the laws. That way your managers can say, "I'm sorry, but it's the law," without the customer getting mad at the restaurant.
Liz: That's a great idea!
Me: They also have fliers you can print up and display in a prominent place of your restaurant informing customers of the law. Also, I know that breastfeeding laws are different everywhere. In Washington mother's rights are protected but in Idaho I know managers can ask you to leave. It would be really nice if Red Robin was a breastfeeding friendly restaurant everywhere, regardless of the laws.
Liz: That would be good. Do you have the website for those cards? That's a great idea.
Me: I don't know it off the top of my head, but I can email it to you. Do you want me to send it to guest relations or do you have a specific address you want me to use?
Liz: You can use guest relations, but here's my email address, it's really easy. [Email address]. If you have any ideas you can send them here, we want to hear them and we want to have an open dialouge.
Me: I can't think of anything else right now, but I'll ask my friends if they have any ideas. I wanted to say that I really appreciate this phone call, thank you for doing all this.
Liz: My pleasure, we just want everyone to be happy.
So overall I'm really happy with how Red Robin is handling this now. I don't think I'll organize an official nurse-in but I think it would be a good idea for mothers to go to Red Robin and nurse. Also, let them know how you feel about how you want them to uphold a mother's right to breastfeed, whether it's state law or not.
If they don't do what they say they're going to then we can take this further. But as of right now I'm feeling pretty happy.
Updated again: I wanted to add a link to the web page that has the little cards to pass out. Enjoy!