Think your days as a foodie are over just because you had the nerve to procreate? Think again! Believe it or not, there are restaurants that will welcome you and your kid(s), and not just the ones festooned with a mouse and cheese logo.
Momlogic's Vivian: Let me back up a little. We live in a NYC neighborhood with tons of great places to eat. You name it, we've got it -- Thai, Chinese, Italian, New American, Sustainable, Regrettable -- the list goes on and on. That said, when my son was born six years ago, my husband and I were afraid our global palates would be relegated to a steady balance of home cooked meals (i.e. frozen Trader Joe's entrees) and wherever was willing to deliver to our place. But we soon realized that with a little planning and a lot of gumption, we could easily continue our quest to eat our way across town.
With these simple tips in mind, you'll be out to eat again in no time.
Start 'Em YOUNG
After a month or two, you'll start to notice a sleep/wake pattern with your newborn. Try and time your dinner outing according to a window when he'll nap. Once baby's lids get a little heavy, strap them into their car seat and tote them into a restaurant like a huge-ass purse. I prefer using car seats with my kids as infants because they are a lot easier to accommodate space wise -- just flip over your standard wooden highchair, nestle the grooves of the seat on the legs and voila! It's chow time! Just be sure to bring a binky or bottle if junior wakes during the crème brûlée.
Many dining establishments -- even some with crisp white tablecloths and little tea light candles -- are more than willing to accommodate small children. The trick is to arrive around 6 PM, before the deuces and four tops fill up for date night. This way, you preserve the sanctity of your kid's bedtime and spare romancing diners your kid's loud protests over the mushrooms. Face it, you probably couldn't stay awake through an 8 PM meal anyway.
Bring A Bag Of Tricks
You don't have to load your bag with every single toy in your arsenal before dining out, but a few handy accoutrements to whip out of your purse can easily make or break a peaceful meal. Matchbox cars (used with discretion), small board books and the classic crayons and paper provide no fail distractions until the grub hits the table. My favorite? The almighty iPhone/iPod Touch. You can mesmerize your toddler with episodes of "Sesame Street" or "Yo Gabba Gabba" for less than a buck. And for those who don't believe in TV, toddler shape-matching games work just as well for the same price.
Aside from an actual kid's menu, it only takes a few minutes to ascertain if the owner/host/server of a restaurant has kids or is kid-friendly. Some hints: Some form of french fries on the menu, you are met with a smile and small talk, the server asks if they should put the kids orders in first or volunteer to split a large plate into smaller portions and crayons are put on the table immediately upon your arrival. You appreciate these kinds of niceties, right? Be sure your server is duly rewarded with a tip of 20% -- your crew will be sure to be met with a smile if you make a return visit.
Don't Give Up
Had to abort a meal mission because junior decided to test his lungs power before the entree made it to the table? As kids can be volatile little creatures, even the most well-prepped parents can occasionally experience a meal out gone awry. Try and diffuse things for a minute but if you can't relax your kid, remove them from the premises, ask for your meal to-go and pay the check immediately. Your server will appreciate it, the other diners will appreciate it, and you won't be remembered as "that family" if you try to come back!
What are your fave tips for dining out with kids?