See below for my road-tested tips for a successful experience dining out with babies & tots!
Early And Often
The best tip I can offer is to do it a lot. Just like air travel, the sooner and more frequently you do it, the more confident you’ll be. Your baby will quickly get used to the process and it won’t feel scary or overwhelming to you. Think of where you can “train” your baby (and yourself) if you haven’t dined out much yet. Fast casual restaurants (like Chipotle or Potbellys), diners, and pool/beach/country clubs are all great places to start. Try going a few times at an “easy” location like these to get yourself and your baby used to the motions of dining out.
Pick The Right Time
This is common mistake. You know your baby (and hopefully, you know their schedule). Don’t go out to eat during nap time, or after the baby’s bedtime. Be strategic. If your childless friend suggests 7 PM and your baby’s bedtime is 7:30, that’s a recipe for disaster. If you’re nursing your baby, you might want to feed them right before you head out so you don’t have to deal with that whole situation. Early in the evening, along with likely being convenient with your schedule, will also mean the restaurant is less crowded, which means you’ll have more space and feel a bit more relaxed (and often – there will be lots of other families doing the same thing, even at nicer spots).
Pick The Right Location
Think about getting there: is it going to be a long drive and how will that affect their eating or sleeping schedule? Who is going to be the designated driver if you’re drinking? If you’re using a taxi or Uber, prepare to be installing and uninstalling a car seat (and knowing it will have to be stored somewhere in the restaurant)
Think about getting IN there: is it stroller friendly in terms of a ramp? What about the size of the restaurant? This is a big consideration if you live in a city like New York where there are some reallllly tiny dining establishments. Consider using your travel stroller to save space. We use the BabyZen Yoyo+ Stroller whenever we eat out and I can’t recommend it more – light, compact, and folds up quickly and easily with one hand (and has a strap so you can carry it like a purse).
Think about the vibe & clientele: Somewhere that is popular with models and has a thumping club soundtrack probably won’t make you or your baby feel very comfortable. Check Yelp or other review sites to see if the restaurant is considered child-friendly. Check if they have a changing table in the bathroom. I have changed Teddy on the floor of a restaurant bathroom several times and it’s not the greatest. Talk to your local friends with kids and get their recommendations.
I cannot stress this one enough. Review your diaper bag before you go – do you have the changing pad, diapers, wipes, and hand sanitizing wipes? (I love the Babyganics Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizing Wipes On-The-Go, we bring a pack with us everywhere we go). Do you have a change of clothes in case of a blowout? Do you have whatever food or drink you baby needs? Do you have a few toys, books or a favorite stuffed animal to keep them entertained? Do you have a blanket and sweater for them in case you’re eating outside and it gets cold?
The Restaurant Is Your Friend, Not Your Enemy
Above is a picture of a waiter helping me careen a 6 week old infant in a massive stroller onto a RESTAURANT ON A BOAT in Tribeca. Regardless of whether or not a restaurant is considered baby-friendly, you will be surprised how accommodating restaurants are to babies and families. In the hundreds (literally) of restaurants I’ve taken Teddy to, I have rarely EVER had a hostess or waiter give me any sort of attitude when they see us roll in….and we’ve eaten out mostly in LA & NYC, land of America’s Snobbiest Hostesses. To the contrary, many restaurants will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. So take advantage and don’t be shy about what you need! If you have a mobile baby who doesn’t love the highchair, request a booth where they have some space to roam. If you have a big stroller, request a back corner where it won’t be jostled by people walking by. Need a quiet place to nurse? Just ask!
Be Respectful, But Not Apologetic
Don’t let your kids run around the restaurant or actively engage with other diners. They did not come out to dinner to babysit or entertain your child. If your baby has a tantrum, take them out of the restaurant. This is not the time to practice crying it out. But as long as you’re being respectful, remember that it’s ok for a baby to be a baby. If they’re talking loudly or screeching, that is normal. Shelly and Bob over at table 12 might be giving you the stink eye, but guess what? They don’t own the restaurant. Ignore them. You have just as much right to be there and have a nice meal as they do, even if it means you have to get up a few times to retrieve a tossed sippy cup.
Level Your Expectations
Life is different now that you have a baby (for the better!). So no, you probably can’t just head out on the town on a whim at 8 PM and squeeze into a loud, tiny restaurant and expect it to be easy. At least not right away. So, embrace the new normal and be prepared for the unexpected. If you’re relaxed, your baby will pick up on that emotion and be more relaxed too.
Any tips I’m missing? Questions I didn’t address? Let’s hear ‘em in the comments!