Tips and tricks for a happy dining experience
Dining out with a baby is dining out in a whole new way. Enjoying a lunch at an overcrowded hotspot will never be the same (if you even dare try it). And enjoying a long, leisurely meal sounds like a mission impossible. Enjoying a meal at all is the major task at hand once you have a baby. But it can be done! And if you think your life is now restricted to eating at places with life size animal mascots, think again. Believe it or not dining with a baby can actually be a fun, pleasant experience. Yes, I said pleasant.
Ava and I dine out all of the time with our mommy friends and their babies. If you catch us on a day when we are all together you may see quite a site. Seven mommies and SEVEN babies. Sometimes SEVEN strollers. It’s quite a scene, but you know what? Our babies rock. We are often complimented on how good they are, how quiet they are and of course how cute they are. As scary as our group looks when we stroll through the door, we aren’t so bad. We have learned how to enjoy dining with our babies.
Doug and I also take Ava out to restaurants on a regular basis. We tend to have fun going out with our baby and we have learned the dos and don’ts of dining with a little one. Here are some general rules and tips that can help when eating out:
- Go at off peak times. If you plan your lunch a little bit early at 11:45 or a little bit later at say 1:45 or 2:00, you’ll miss the 12-1:00ish lunch rush. Your servers will be friendlier, you’ll be less cramped and I find it is a far less stressful experience when the restaurant is not as full. If you are planning a dinner out, the same rules apply. It’s much easier with a baby to enjoy your meal at 5:00 pm than at 6:30 or 7:00 when everyone else is hungry too. Plus babies tend to tire out the later it gets. And we all know how fun tired babies can be.
- Naps are a good thing. If you can manage to plan a meal out when your baby is napping, it’s a very good thing. Sometimes dining at the off peak times are also conveniently over nap times. Wink wink.
- Come prepared. If your baby is under 6 months old and is only on the bottle or breast, make sure you have enough food to feed your baby for a few feedings - just in case. Also bring distracting toys. A happy baby means a happier meal for you.
- Light colored food. If your baby is over 6 months and on solid food, feed your baby at lunch with you. If you make your baby part of the experience he or she will feel included. I like to bring light colored (baby) food with me when we eat out over the darker colored foods. If your baby does happen to fling a bite or two, the lighter colored foods are less obvious and easier to clean up. And that’s a good thing – especially if it lands on you.
- Snacks and nibbles. If your baby likes to try new foods, order something you can share with them. They will feel like they are participating and it’s also a good distraction. BABY PUFFS ARE YOUR FRIEND! I never leave home without them. I will feed Ava right in her stroller or in a high chair at the table with us. As long as she feels that she’s part of the team, she’s a happy camper.
- Newborns are new. If you are going out with your new little bundle, don’t be so hard on yourself. I had a really tough time with this one, but I desperately needed something “normal” like a real lunch in a real restaurant. Remember that babies cry. Newborns get a hall pass on crying since that is really all they do. And most people will give you the sympathy eyes if your little one starts up. If they are parents, they remember – generally fondly – of this special time. Give yourself a break and let your husband take the baby for a little walk. And just breathe.
- Clean up and tipping. I always clean up any messes that Ava may leave behind. Babies throw and drop things. It’s what they do. But you can clean it up and show a good example to everyone that babies can dine out too. And I also tip well. Even if Ava has been a perfect angel, I want the staff to know that I appreciate their extra kindness to me and my baby. Often times you’ll have to rearrange tables and chairs or change things around to accommodate your little one. They will probably remember you for your good (or bad) impression. Tipping a little bit extra shows them you are a respectful patron and they will remember that too if you return.
- Portable high chairs. I highly recommend investing in one of these. They are lightweight, easy to carry and a great way to make your baby part of group. I tend to use ours when Doug and I go out for meals. She’s part of our trio and this chair lets her join in. The tray contains and holds her food much better than using the the table. And it’s much cleaner too. I have the Fisher Price Healthy Care Booster Seat and I love it. It’s one of the best $25 investments we’ve made.
- People generally like babies. Babies are cute and you'll find that most people enjoy having them around. I've found that if I indulge the neighbors at the next table with a little conversation about babies (usually they will tell you about their kids or their grandkids) or let them ooh and ahh over her for a few moments, I won't feel as bad if she lets out an ear piercing screech. A little kindness and a few smiles go along way.
- Crabby people suck. If you are doing everything you can to be respectful then there is no reason for people to be crabby at you in a restaurant. Some people are just grumpy by nature and there is no winning them over. Babies make noises and most people find them charming (the happy noises at least. If your baby starts screaming unhappy cries, you know to take them outside). Even if you are the primo parent with the angel child, there are still grouchy folks out there who will look at you sideways for dining out with your baby. These are the same people who dislike puppies and Disneyland. Ignore them. If you are a respectful patron then you have every right to be there with your baby. Luckily nice, happy people who smile at cute babies are more common than the cranky pants.