One of the great joys of parenting is exposing your child to positive new experiences and environments in order to nurture his growth. Your heart tells to get out with the baby, take him to the park, the mall, even the local café. After all, it would be nice to spend some time having someone wait on you for a change.
But then, the thought is also a little daunting.
It’s okay to feel nervous about new experiences with your baby, especially where eating out is concerned. No one wants to be “That Family,” the one with the screaming kid that everyone is glaring at from across the room. But if you spend a little time setting the stage for success, you might come to find that eating out with baby helps him build social skills, promotes bonding, and soon becomes one of your new favorite things in the world.
-Know your baby – You know your baby better than anyone. You’re the best judge of whether he can make it through an hour or so in a restaurant. If not, it’s okay to wait. Babies evolve and develop quickly and if not today, then maybe next week.
-Stick to the schedule - Does your baby have certain times of day he’s most calm? Does he devolve into full meltdown mode at 5PM? Try to plan your outing around his schedule instead of trying to fit him into yours and you’re bound to have a better experience.
-Pick the right restaurant – Some restaurants are more welcoming to children than others. This isn’t to say that you will only be able to eat at spots with crayons on the tablecloths for the next 18 years, but if the maître d’ raises an eyebrow when you ask for a high chair, it’s a safe bet that you should come back another day when the kids are with Grandma.
-Eye the table – If the baby is old enough to grab things, get rid of anything hot, as well as all grabbable items within his reach. Especially the knives. And the water glass. Better you clearing the table than the baby. Also keep an eye on the tablecloth if your child is inclined to tug at it—yikes!
-Bring reinforcements – Have a bottle ready made or a nursing cover on hand so that you can feed a younger baby quickly when he starts fussing. While you can engage your own baby with little songs and finger games for a time, it’s nice to have additional distractions so that you can have a moment to enjoy your own food. Older babies who can sit up at the table can play with toys and rattles (hopefully kind of quiet ones), and toddlers are usually pretty happy with crayons. In a pinch, the creamer containers, a children’s menu, or pretty much anything around that looks safe can make for very enjoyable playthings. And don’t forget a bib.
-Be prepared to leave – The best thing you can do if your child has a meltdown before the food has arrived is to simply ask for the check (and a to-go bag) and hit the front door. No one will think worse of you; in fact they’ll appreciate your consideration.
-Don’t forget to tip – Babies create more work for the waiter and the bus staff. If you’d like to be welcomed back, a little extra…gratitude goes a long way.
In the end, heed your own instincts. If it seems like a going out kind of a day with baby—listen to your heart. It rarely steers you wrong.