Seeing our daughter intoxicated was something Kate and I thought we had over a decade to prepare ourselves for. Apparently not – a mistake from a local restaurant meant that we witnessed our four year old child drunk. As if that wasn’t weird and disturbing enough, she had the inevitable hangover the next day. I appreciate this might sound funny to some but think about it – she’s four years old, and she was drunk. It’s wrong…

Restaurant mistake rendered my four year old child drunk

Wednesday 20 December was our designated evening for dropping off Christmas cards. You know the score, you drive round slowly, open the car door silently and creep up to their front door. You open the letterbox and hope it’s well oiled, then you slip the cards in and close it as though it’s an alarmed bank vault. The last thing you want is them opening the door and having that 12-month catch up chat neither of you want at 19:30 in the evening.

We took an hour doing this and bribed our four year old, Evelyn, with a burger and chips in return for her cooperation.

She cooperated, so we headed to Frankie and Benny’s for her treat. We had no idea it’d more closely resemble a hen do for her.

Ordering

I nipped to the gents to wash the last hour off my face, and returned to a drinks order being delivered to our table. A diet Pepsi each for me and Kate, and a “Softail” from the kids’ menu for Evelyn. In fact the one pictured below:

Franky & benny's kids softails, four year old drunk
Fruity Sunrise – the drink we thought was delivered, same glass and same colours as the picture here

Note the shape of the glass – Frankie and Benny’s have since told me that only the kid’s drinks are served in these glasses, and they have their own style of straw (pictured). We had no reason to suspect anything, it was a completely passive handover of the drink to Evelyn for her to drink it. No one knew at this point that it was a real cocktail. Real cocktails have one of these glasses:

four year old child drunk
Adult cocktails, note the shape of the glasses and the style of the straws

Bear in mind that she’d been thirsty all the way to the restaurant, and when the drink came she grabbed the straw and gulped away in the way only thirsty kids do. She had a third of the glass, then after a fraction of a second recoiled and gave that “EURGH” she does when she’s being fussy. Annoyingly it’s the same sound she makes when she genuinely doesn’t like something – this confuses us a lot at mealtimes when narrowing down what she actually likes.

“Oh stop being fussy” we said “You love fruit juice!”.

She had a few more reluctant gulps before giving up.

The realisation

A few minutes passed and our food order was on its way. The waitress rushed over to us.

“I’m so sorry, I really am sorry, I’ve given your daughter a real cocktail”.

There was a few seconds of silence when we processed that. I slowly turned my head to Evelyn then looked back at the waitress, confused. The best we could manage was “Seriously? Oh, ok, well thank you for coming over before she drank any more.”. The waitress left to get the real drink for Evelyn while Kate and I quizzed her about how she felt.

Evelyn was completely normal. Nothing out the ordinary, but it had only been 5 or so minutes. The waitress was almost tears as she brought the proper drink over, apologising over and over.

“She seems ok” I said, “we’ll keep a close eye on her, but her garlic bread is on the way so it’s probably a good idea for her to eat that asap”.

Our food arrived seconds later, and Evelyn ate her garlic bread. Good. That’ll soak some of it up.

The reaction

Over the next 10 minutes or so, Evelyn started acting a bit strange. I’m not sure how to explain this fully as four year olds are strange by nature anyway, but when she literally stood on her part of the booth and started dancing I suspected we were seeing our four year old child drunk.

This isn’t a joke – I honestly realise it sounds ridiculous. It’s true.

Evelyn said she needed the toilet, so I took her. I used the opportunity to make her walk to the toilets with me. She couldn’t walk in a straight line, and she swayed into the other tables on the short walk there. I’ll admit, it was unsettling to see this in light of the fact she’d just downed some alcohol.

It was when we were stood in the bathroom and Evelyn was telling jokes to herself in the mirror and giggling that I knew for sure. Again, I know this sounds ridiculous. It IS ridiculous, but it’s also upsetting to think about. She’s actually drunk, I felt sick.

We went back to the table and I explained to Kate that she wasn’t right. Back at the table Evelyn put her coat on herself, put her hood up and announced she was going to sleep on the bench. She’s definitely pissed.

The concerns

The waitress came over to check on Evelyn and we voiced our concern that that drink had made our four year old child drunk. She panicked, and while we felt sorry for her, we had to take precautions here. We asked for some ice cream that Evelyn liked – alcohol is absorbed quickly by a child, and it can lower blood sugar very quickly. We’d give her the ice cream then decide what to do. I gave Evelyn my Pepsi and her juice (just juice), she drank it all.

We paid up and left. In hindsight, I should have queried the payment, but I didn’t. The card machine was handed to me with that “Add a gratuity” screen that’s supposed to be discreet, only they know your choice when the receipt is printed, don’t they! I rounded the £53 up to £55 on autopilot and we went to the car.

Evelyn was talking about seeing a plane on the moon on the building opposite. No love, that’s the “F&B On The Beach” cocktail talking.

The outcome

We went home, got her changed and put her in bed, lying on her side. Kate rang 111, the NHS helpline. The call lasted about 40 minutes, Kate explained everything and lots of questions were asked. We woke Evelyn up to do the brief checks that they asked.

The nurse on the phone advised that a GP would call us back within the hour. We kept Evelyn with us and awaited the call, which came 10 minutes later.

The doctor advised that we go to A&E and have them check Evelyn over.

Now, have you ever tried to get a sleeping four year old into a car seat? Hard, isn’t it? Now imagine that four year old was drunk, confused and uncomfortable. It wasn’t easy.

We drove to the hospital and had her checked. They asked her to walk in a straight line and she couldn’t – she was awake at this point and it wasn’t tiredness. A few more checks later and the doctor advised that we put her in our bed and let her “sleep it off” as she was in fact drunk.

We drove home – driving through the thickest fog I’ve ever seen in my life.

The hangover

The doctor advised us that she would be hung over. Take that in for just a second – our four year old child would be hung over in the morning. That’s shit!

Kate phoned in work the next morning and we let Evelyn sleep in until 10am. She woke up groggy, croaky and complaining of a sore head. Textbook hangover. I’d left for work by this point but Kate gave her breakfast and kept a close eye on her for an hour before ringing the school to explain, then taking her in before lunch.

We heard she was quiet in school, but she’s fine now.

The response

I tweeted Frankie & Benny’s about it as Kate was on the phone to 111 and they sent a stock tweet back asking me to fill in their complaints form. I stressed that I didn’t want to make a complaint; we didn’t know the full story yet. The last thing we wanted was the waitress to get sacked for this. She was genuinely lovely and it wasn’t worth her job at that point. It’s a training issue at worst.

I had around a hundred responses from people from that tweet, and Twitter Analytics told me that over 6000 people had seen it overnight. Frankie & Benny’s messaged me asking how Evelyn was, and asking for details.

I asked how they differentiate between the kids’ softails and the adult cocktails and I was told that the softails have their own glass and straw. This information changed things.

The mistake

It was a hard mistake to make – for this to have happened, someone had to have made an adult cocktail and put it in a child’s glass with a child’s straw. This wasn’t ok, I was angry at this point. I wonder at what point it was noticed – did an adult get a kid’s softail across the restaurant and complain? What if they’d not complained. Even worse, what if Evelyn was still on the antibiotics she was on last week?

I voiced some of this to them over Twitter Direct Message. They were apologetic – of course they were.

They offered us a free meal; that pissed me off. You’d expect an establishment to offer someone a free meal if they got the order wrong, or if the food was cold. You do not offer a free meal after getting a four year old child drunk and causing an A&E visit until 1am.

You'd expect an establishment to offer someone a free meal if they got the order wrong, or if the food was cold. You do not offer a free meal after getting a four year old child drunk and causing an A&E visit until 1am. Click To Tweet

I understand that they’re following protocol, and I despise this blame/claim culture we have – the word “compensation” is one I usually frown at. But a free meal – come on.

What do I want?

I want to know how this happened. How does someone put alcohol in a kid’s glass and hand it to them? Is it as simple as someone doing just that, or is there a fault in the procedure that would give rise to the chance of this happening?

I want Evelyn to get a break from either being ill or feeling like she’s ill. She’s just got over tonsillitis and come off the antibiotics!

If it’s the former, then we’ve all made mistakes at work. I have – plenty, but fortunately that just costs someone money. If you’re in a position to give children something they’ll consume then you need to make damn sure that it’s safe and won’t, for example, get them pissed. The restaurant failed here.

If you're in a position to give children something they'll consume then you need to make damn sure that it's safe and won't, for example, get them pissed. The restaurant failed here. Click To Tweet

I’ll liaise with Frankie and Benny’s and see what can be done about this. I haven’t decided how far I’ll take it, but I’m not happy with the cavalier attitude thus far. The latest email I received was signed off “Yours sincerely, Guest Services”. Effort.

I feel sorry for the waitress, and I will be unhappy if she’s disciplined. This is a training issue as I see it.

I’m not sure we’ll be heading back there though. I might be a bit soft, but the memory of Evelyn swaying and being drunk isn’t much of an appetite builder. There was nothing merry about the situation in the slightest.