Going out to a restaurant is a people experience and doesn’t need to end once you have a baby; after all, they’re people, too. As with any other activity where you include your baby, there are some tips to make dining out with baby a better experience.
BYO food. For babies under two, nurse or feed baby during the meal to keep them occupied. Babies who sit up in high chairs on their own can eat some nibbles from your plate or the bread basket. But I always augment that meal with an endless supply of cheerios or blueberries from my purse to make interest in sitting at the table last longer. There’s an age at which it’s no longer appropriate to bring a supply of food for your child to a restaurant. I know this because my waitress friend complains about parents who sit at her tables and open up lunchboxes for their preschoolers. (If they take up table space and make a mess, they should be ordering food that gets paid for.)
Find the right volume of restaurant. A restaurant that’s buzzing with activity and people is the perfect environment in which new parents can relax and know that their child’s sudden outburst of “Ba ba ba ba ba!” will not disrupt other diners. Popular ethnic restaurants are good targets as they tend to be family-owned and baby-friendly. Romantic eateries are not, especially if they will be filled with patrons who came for the date night vibe.
Pro tip: If you’re craving a trendy restaurant for an anniversary dinner and bring your baby along, seek out a place with an open kitchen. The noise will mask the sounds that may come from your baby.
Set a time limit. Tiny babies may sleep through the whole meal, but one-year olds will not. Understanding their limited attention spans will go a long way in creating a positive experience. As much as you might want to hear what your partner or girlfriend has to say, expect that you might have to get up and take a lap around the restaurant to keep your squirmy baby happy. Time is not on your side; avoid brunch spots with long waits. Get your dining companion on board with a Plan B. If a meltdown occurs, someone will need to take baby outside, while the other person dines alone or pays the check.
Put baby in his own place. It’s always an experiment to learn whether your baby would rather sit on your lap or in a high chair at a restaurant. It’s certainly easier to eat your own meal if your child is willing to sit in the high chair. If he’s too wiggly to be worn, and there’s no space in the restaurant for a stroller to be pulled up next to your table, consider bringing your own portable feeding chair to attach to the table. Now he can look around — and your hands are free to enjoy your meal.