When Emma Duke, a two-year-old, was at a Panera Bread restaurant in Savannah, Georgia on Jan. 2 with her mom, Catherine Duke, one of Panera’s employees told them that Emma needed to take off her shoes or get out because her the noise her shoes were making was disturbing another customer. According to a Yahoo! News report on Monday, Emma has a developmental illness which makes it difficult for her to walk correctly.
Stephen Duke, Emma’s father, said that the family is shocked at his wife and daughter being told to remove the shoes or leave because, he claims, the Panera Bread employee and manager have known about Emma’s walking difficulties because his wife and daughter Emma go to the restaurant often.
The father said that she just started to try to walk at 23 months – very late – so the orthopedist recommended special shoes for better ankle support. He said that the shoes squeak as an incentive when she walks heel to toe she she’ll hear it and know that she’s walking properly.
After the employee requested that they leave the restaurant, Emma’s mom took her daughter as the mother left in tears. It was believed that the worker who made the request to Emma’s mother has worked at the restaurant for several months – though she has not been reportedly identified.
Catherine Duke contacted Panera Bread’s corporate headquarters with her complaint over the situation and then received an in-person apology at the restaurant when she met with officials from the restaurant chain, the employee who erred, and the manager of the restaurant.
During the meeting, the officials said that this situation is not something Panera does. Additionally, they will be holding a fundraiser on Emma’s behalf in which 50 percent of the restaurant’s proceeds on a specific night will be given to the Duke family to help with Emma’s medical bills.
Emma’s dad said he probably won’t return to the restaurant, but his wife probably will – but probably not as frequently, as his wife is friendly with some of the people who work at the restaurant.
Panera Bread stated that the last thing they would want to do is make anyone feel unwelcome.
It sounds like another case where an employee lacks simple common sense. The customer that complained might want to keep a pair of earplugs on him or her if they are that disturbed by the sound of a child's shoes, too.