In my gut I knew that it was too late to take our baby out for dinner. He was acting a little fussy and it was nearly 7 pm. Nonetheless, my husband and I were desperate for a night out and figured we could handle anything that came our way.
Fast forward twenty minutes later.
Harried, we left the restaurant juggling our crying baby and the take out containers into which we had hastily thrown our dinners. I should have listened to my instincts and stayed home.
So how do you successfully eat out with baby? Remembering your three “rights” should make the experience more pleasant for everyone.
The Right Time
Clearly, my husband and I learned the hard way to never take a tired baby out for a meal later than you would expect them to eat at home.
Other things to think about when considering the right time include how long it takes to drive to the restaurant and what sort of wait for a table there may be. Early evenings usually work best for dinner, but not always. One of my favorite spots is incredibly busy on Fridays during Happy Hour. Rather than wait for hordes of office workers to vacate the tables, I know to visit that particular restaurant on Saturday instead.
The Right Place
Restaurants targeted towards families are your best bet. Er, duh! No Chez Fromage de Snooty Poo Poo for you and your wee one. Family-friendly establishments have what you need for a successful night out: a kids’ menu, milk, high chairs, place mats and crayons. Other families frequent these restaurants as well, so you will be in good (i.e., messy, noisy) company.
Think about the noise level and busyness of the restaurant. Many kids love loud restaurants where model airplanes dangle from the ceiling and servers dance and sing “Happy Birthday” every five seconds. However, some babies may be over stimulated by such surroundings, so consider your child’s temperament when making restaurant choices.
The Right Food
Once your baby starts solids he may enjoy sharing what you ordered. Plate sharing with infants is generally accepted in family restaurants, although feel free to check with the manager or server beforehand if you feel self-conscious.
As your baby’s appetite grows, consider ordering a kids’ meal. These offer smaller portions at a smaller price. Consider food safety, too. Dishes such as macaroni and cheese can be served piping hot and burn your little one’s mouth. Hot dogs are a popular kids’ meal item, but most restaurants serve them whole. It is up to you to cut a hot dog into small pieces to prevent choking.
Concerned about food allergies? Call ahead to talk with the manager about ingredients and separate food preparation surfaces. Think about nutrition as well. Are fresh fruit or vegetables available as sides or does Junior only get french fries?
If you remember your rights—right time, right place, and right food—then when you eat out with baby it CAN be fun. Plus, someone else is doing the cooking and the dishes that night so Mom and Dad get a well-deserved break!