After a fun-filled year of practice, I’m officially declaring myself a professional “Patron who dines out with babies & toddlers.” Yes, you may laugh and scoff now. With a 2.5 year old and 1 year old, we all know things can get insanely nuts at any moment (especially in a restaurant)… no one is safe. But, I’ve learned how to minimize your dining-fails with a few tips that have been working for me since I first jumped my rocker and attempted taking my two BABIES (at that point) out to dinner by myself. When dining out with toddlers and babies, keep the following in mind to increase your odds of success:
TIME IT RIGHT. If you have a baby (less than a year): Feed the baby at HOME, then IMMEDIATELY get everyone in the car. This way, that little thing will sleep when you need him/her to… like when you’re being seated, ordering your food and eating in the restaurant. Looking back, my ‘timing it’ meant feeding my baby at 3pm, getting in the car around 3:45, then having a 4:45pm-ish dinner. (Oh! And don’t take the baby out of his/her carseat/basket UNLESS THEY ARE CRYING.)
ARRIVE IN TIME SO YOU CAN EAT BEFORE ANYONE’S REALLY HUNGRY. This is a current rule of mine. If we usually eat lunch at noon (at home), then I will plan to be seated at restaurant around 11am so that we actually get our food around 11:30am… before anyone realizes they’re starving and decides to throw a fit or a salt-and-pepper shaker at your head in public.
PRE-SET WHAT YOU ANTICIPATE YOU MIGHT NEED ON THE TABLE THE SECOND YOU SIT DOWN. At the first available window of opportunity – I REPEAT, THE FIRST AVAILABLE WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY – scoop out your bottle, formula/milk, water, juice, toys, wipes, Cheerios, pacifier, etc etc etc and pre-set all of them either in the booth, on your chair or on the table so that WHEN someone starts to flip out, your tools are handy and ready for you to grab (as opposed to you digging through your cluttered diaper bag while your toddler throws spaghetti onto the next table while shrieking at the top of her lungs… yes, this has happened). These days, I let my older girl sprinkle salt and pepper on her bread plate (like a game) to keep her occupied…
ORDER EVERYONE THE SAME MEAL (if your kiddos are little enough – like mine – and you can get away with it). This avoids any “oh let me yank that from my sister’s plate” brawls that can arise should someone have something different than their sibling on their plate.
ASK YOUR SERVER TO BRING TAKEOUT CARTONS WHEN YOU ORDER. Just in case you need to pack up quickly (on account of someone little losing their cool) and get the heck outta dodge before you anticipated. At least you can take your food with you.
LIE TO YOUR TODDLER. For me, this concerned my iced tea. I remember my older girl wanting to drink and eat everything that I was drinking and eating, but I refused to skip my tropical caffeine fix on account of avoiding her grabby hands. Instead of fighting between her whining about why I wasn’t letting her drink my tea, I simply took a sip, made a disgusting face and created an over-the-top dramatic scene about how “yucky” it was. “Yuck! Ewww!” I went on and on about how gross it tasted and how “Mommys have to drink this… but it’s soooo yucky. yuck.” She bought it, stopped asking for it and shot me concerned looks every time I took more sips. But she no longer wants to drink my iced tea. Nipped. In. The. Bud.
PAY YOUR BILL THE SECOND YOUR FOOD COMES. It goes like this: Your server brings your food. You say thank you and immediately ask for the check. You sign the check while you’re eating. And just like that, all of your business is D.O.N.E. This way, IF someone decides to throw a tantrum because they want out of their high-chair right after they finish their meal, you’re not stuck scrambling, frustrated and trying to catch the attention of your server to ask them to bring you the bill.
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE ENTERTAINMENT VALUE OF STRAWS. Self explanatory (see picture).
The moral of my silly story? THINK AHEAD. And remember to smile. Even if everyone is screaming.