Since Judah was only two months old, my husband and I have taken him out to a number of restaurants in the greater Boston area and when visiting family back in New Jersey. For some parents, the idea of dining out with baby seems like a crazy one, and once baby arrives, nice nights out to dinner become a rarity. I’m here to tell you that it’s not about letting baby “cramp your style” as it were; rather, it’s all about shifting perspective and learning to adapt when out with your little one.
Here are the ways we save money on the sitter while still enjoying the spontaneity of dining out about town — even with our little one in tow.
Judah’s first trip out to a restaurant when he was just two months old; we went to one of our local diners for a relaxing weekend brunch.
Know your dining venue.
This is the number one piece of advice I offer to any parent. Is the restaurant known for being family or kid friendly? Does it have highchairs? If the answer is no, then you should either hire a sitter to enjoy the night alone, or skip the venue with baby altogether. Is the place loud? This might actually work in your favor if baby gets fussy, but could be overwhelming for baby. Is there a side room where you could be seated, in case baby’s cranky, squirmy or shrieking? It never hurts to call ahead and ask the host or hostess before you make plans, especially if you’ve never dined there before.
Take advantage of the newborn months to go out to eat.
We went out to eat a ton while Judah was still a tiny newborn simply because he slept so much. We’d carry him in and out of the restaurant right in his carseat and he was often none the wiser that he’d even left the house! If you’re still nervous about heading out to eat with baby, test out the experience at more low-key meals, like Sunday brunch or midweek lunch where there’s bound to be less diners.
Pay attention to and respect your baby’s limits.
Remember the days when you could sit down and eat an entire meal while it was still hot? While it’s tempting to try and squeeze in dessert, if baby’s not having it while you’re out, don’t push it. When Judah’s had enough, we know it’s time to wrap up the meal no matter what course we might be at. To this day, we have yet to finish a meal at one of our favorite local restaurants; we think Judah secretly hates it there. (If only he knew just how tasty the menu is!)
Respect the dining experience of other diners.
This relates a lot to knowing your venue. If the restaurant has out the silverware, as in, the real deal silver silverware, fine white tablecloths and a sommelier on staff — it’s probably not the best place for baby. And if your little one is starting to show signs of an epic meltdown, be courteous to your fellow diners and call it a night. We have a pretty streamlined system in the event that Judah has had enough: one of us takes Judah to the lobby, outside, or the car while the other gets the check and our meals to go. There’s no need to subject everyone else who’s just trying to enjoy their meal to our son’s crying.
Bring the essentials, but pack lightly.
If we’re just headed out for a quick bite to eat on the run, we always make sure we have only the most essential items when headed out of the house with Judah: a diaper, a changing pad, wipes, and a teething toy of some sort; a prepared bottle of formula often depends on the time of day and depending on where we’re going, I might just breastfeed him anyway, saving us the bottle. If we’re headed out around his dinnertime (which is often right around our dinnertime), we pack a pouch of baby food and a spoon. Most of these can fit right into my purse without even having to take a diaper bag.
Be prepared for stranger anxiety.
Judah has had some adorable short-lived meltdowns when our waitresses arrive to take our order (waiters, not so much). Around six to eight months, babies begin to develop stranger anxiety: it’s totally normal and natural and sometimes, the appearance of a stranger so close to him can freak him out a little. He’s usually fine after a few minutes of comforting, but be aware that some babies can be sensitive to the repeat appearance of a stranger to the table.
As baby gets older, turn meals out of the house into learning opportunities!
My husband and I have a pretty broad palate, and we like everything from Thai to Indian to southern BBQ. When Judah’s with us out to eat, we take the time to let him see, smell, and sometimes taste what we’re eating. We might talk to him about the cultures from where the food originates, or maybe we just point out colors or numbers of things on our plates. We’re big believers in turning everyday experiences into learning opportunities.
What advice do you have to share about dining out with your little one?