JoyeAustin and her daughter at lunch with meChildless people enjoy meals that are civilized: voices are at a proper level, things never (okay, rarely) get spilled, food is never thrown, people are reasonably patient, food on your face or lap is a mishap instead of a common occurrence.
In comes the parents with babies. (Insert dramatic music here.) Cue dirty looks from aforementioned patrons, anxious wiggling if you have to wait to be seated, often-futile attempts to entertain the little one while waiting for the drink that once you receive, you then have to work to keep from being spilled all over. And so on.
While it's never going to be easy to teach babies how to behave well in restaurants, there are quite a few things you can do to help make it easier.
1. Expect Manners at Home
If you allow your child to throw food, finger-paint with mashed potatoes, or walk around while eating at home, don't be surprised if they try it while you're out. You may distinguish between the two settings, but they don't. Conditioning for behavior when out and about starts in the comfort of your own home -- and you save yourself embarrassment because the only one there to give you a dirty look is your cat.
2. Skip the Children's Menu
Share food off your own plate or order side dishes. Even if it's not on the menu, just ask! Steamed broccoli, zucchini, squash, grapes, apple slices, or a banana are much healthier than anything on the kids' menu anyway, and the baby can feed themselves almost all of this (chopped up in baby-friendly pieces, of course). This saves you from lugging around "baby" food.
3. Order Your Baby's Food When You Order Drinks
When drink orders are taken, put in your child's order right then. Some places will ask whether you want it brought out when it's ready or with the adult food. That's your call, but consider this next point:
4. Avoid Using Food as a Distraction While You're Waiting
Sometimes it's inevitable and the kidlet has no interest in anything else, but use up all of your non-food related distractions in the beginning. You need your baby to be focused on food while you're eating if you want to be able to eat. Even babies in the later half of their first year can practice coloring with crayons -- just try not to let them color their teeth as well.
5. Get a Booth and a High Chair
Start them off in the high chair while they draw and wait for food. Try to let them eat there as well. If they get too bored or fidgety, let them sit on your lap or even stand on the booth next to you. Do not, however, let them walk or crawl around the restaurant. That is dangerous, rude, and a good way to get your little child tripped over by patrons or waitresses with big trays of hot food.
6. Skip Dessert
Most kids are done eating long before adults, and are getting to the point of meltdown. Hit up DQ's drive-thru on the way home if you must, but try to avoid adding extra time to your meal. People generally spend more time in restaurants than they do at their dining room table, so this is asking quite a lot of a baby in the first place -- don't push it.
7. Clean Up a Little
Babies aren't the neatest eaters, but be a little respectful. Use a napkin to wipe your baby's table-mess into at least a pile, or onto a plate if you can. If you can pick up big chunks off the floor, do it. If you don't want to clean up at all, leave a big tip for the person who has to clean up your unusually large mess. You'll be welcomed back at that restaurant with a smile next time.
Do you have any tips and tricks for restaurant survival with a baby?