You’ve spent months in the house with your new fam, luxuriating in spit-up rags and soft squeaky toys, grazing from a freezer filled with pre-made meals. But at some point you’ll be reminded of the world beyond your walls, filled with businesses that will cook food for you (and bring you alcohol!). A world filled with humans having a wonderful time. And after the temptation of one TGI Fridays ad too many, you will think to yourself: “I’m going to ruin the good time of all those other people, for I am taking my new family out to eat!”
But going out to throw a wrench into a restaurant’s system is not as easy as loading everyone into the car and heading to the nearest “family friendly” joint. You need a bit more planning and prep. Here are a few things to consider.
What “Family Friendly” Means
Family friendly restaurant (ex: Denny’s, other diners and chains) or just friendly restaurant (locally owned neighborhood joints, brunch places)? That’s your first question when heading out to put some fresh grub in your tub with your baby and your baby’s baby. One is set up for the weirdness you’re about to lay down, the other isn’t but has good service. There’s good and bad to both. Here’s how it breaks down:
Family Friendly Pros
- They have all the things you’ll need: high-chairs, crayons, a patient staff expecting your bullshit
- Generally willing to make necessary accommodations
- Patrons basically know what they’re getting into (i.e. baby screaming chaos)
- A bunch of other parents who are dealing with the same issues
Family Friendly Cons
- A bunch of other families having the same issue as you
- Generally not the tastiest cuisine
- The atmosphere isn’t really anything to write home about
- Drinking may or may not be possible
- The food is better and might offer something you actually crave
- There’s more likely to be better drinks involved (you’ll want those)
- A wait staff that is willing to accommodate you
- An atmosphere that’s actually pleasant and transporting
- An enjoyable atmosphere you may totally ruin
- Stink eye from non-babied patrons
- A possible lack of stuff you need for your kid to be comfy or entertained
- Creating an inconvenience or mess that guilts you into leaving a bigger tip
Just know that this is a choose your own adventure type thing. Do your research before heading out and have a heart full of acceptance. You don’t always have to go for a family friendly chain — Hipsters have been opening places that do things like serve only grilled cheese or haute peanut butter and jelly sandos. True story.
The Dining Experience
No matter where you go there are a few things that will help make dining with a baby less of a shit-show. It just requires a bit of preparation and a lot of patience. To get things moving in the right direction do the following:
Know Your Kid’s Schedule
By now you know roughly when your kid is hungry and when they’re sleepy. Time eating out to when your kid will probably be the least fussy. That probably after they eat and before they nap. If they’re little enough they won’t be chowing at the restaurant anyway, so falling asleep there is a-okay — for them, not you. A face-first gazpacho sleep dive won’t get anyone on your side.
Bring every interesting and portable toy in your arsenal to keep them interested and playing. Know they might reject all of these things.
Keep Them Secured
For smaller babies, keeping them in the car seat is ideal during dinner. Servers can help you figure out how to shoe horn your kid into the seating situation (pro tip: an upside down high chair makes an effective car seat stand). Make sure you acknowledge your kid’s presence every once in awhile so you’re not freaking them out.
Ask For The Check Immediately
This is your escape hatch. Ask for the check immediately upon ordering. Paying early frees you up for a quick bailout if things should go sideways. They will probably go sideways.
Set It Up
Baby’s are super-duper grabby. So move everything on the table as far from them as possible. If there is truly superfluous material, have your server get it the hell out of there. You do not need that colorful flip-book of signature blended cocktails. Just order one of each and get the thing off your table.
Do Your Best To Chill
You and your family are a minor inconvenience in someone else’s night if things go off the rails. But that is totally okay. You aren’t going to scar anyone for life, unless it’s yourself because you’re taking on too much stress. Just breathe and roll with whatever the meal throws at you. Which, depending on what you left within your kid’s reach, may in fact be the meal itself.