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Dining with Baby: Restaurant Etiquette

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Updated on Jul 26, 2012

If you thought you turned heads on your nights out when you were young, single and fabulous, think again. Any parent who has ever disrupted a restaurant with a tantruming toddler knows there is nothing more likely to get attention—and judgment—than a massive mid-meal meltdown. But with a little preparation, you can revise your restaurant etiquette and eat out with ease.

Where and When to Go

  • Timing is everything. Don't go at a popular time of day, when you know there will be a wait, advises Dr. Ari Brown, MD, FAAP, pediatrician and author of the Baby 411 series. "Children's—and adults'—behaviors get worse with hunger and impatience," he says. A hungry toddler is volatile at the best of times. But a hungry toddler that also needs to be quiet, sit still and be patient is a recipe for screaming and tears.
  • Location, location, location. If you don't see any kids in the restaurant—and especially if there are no highchairs—this might not be the place to bring your little one. Brown suggests selecting a place that has good service and is child-friendly: "You are only asking for a disaster if you have a long wait until the meal is served or the staff is snooty because your kid drops his food on the floor."

What to Bring

  • Favorite foods. To your tot, animal crackers and juice top any Michelin-star meal. Bring a selection of his favorites in case the kids' menu can't compete. It's good to start with an "appetizer" from your purse if there's a delay in the food's arrival, says Brown, and he suggests bringing a portable food grinder. "It's easy to share your food, but depending on the age of the child, the texture may need to be modified."
  • Entertainment. Unless you want your kid to create his own amusement by regaling the restaurant with a rowdy rendition of the ABC song, bring something to amuse him while he waits. Depending on the age of your child, Brown suggests paper, crayons, playing cards, stacking cup and even sugar packets make for entertainment when you're desperate. However, don't resort to passing over your phone: "Part of the eating out experience are the social skills and communication skills that develop by sitting around a table with your family and participating," he says.
  • Diapers and Wipes. Infants are unpredictable, but if there's one thing you can rely on, it's those ill-timed "code brown" moments. You probably haven't gotten through an uninterrupted meal at home since baby was born—it's almost as if your child has an in-built sensor, alerting him to the fact that mom finally has a chance to sit down—and that's not likely to change just because you're dining out. Don't discount the many other uses for wipes; there's nothing better to clean crayon from the table when your child unexpectedly unveils his "artwork."

Where to Sit

  • At the end of a row. It was cute at first, but now your child won't stop staring at the adjoining table. Avoid awkward moments by asking to be seated at the end of a row of tables—and seat junior on the side without a neighbor.
  • By the open kitchen. If you're lucky enough to visit a restaurant with an open kitchen, make the most of it. Ask to sit close by so your kid can watch the action.
  • Close to kids. Other parents are more likely to understand if you need to take baby for a walk around the room, and for infants, watching the other children is often all the entertainment you'll need.
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