Going out to eat is practically a religious experience for me.
That is, of course, an exaggeration, but there are parallels. It's ritualistic. It's something I think about for weeks beforehand. It's something I enjoy doing both alone and with others in a communal experience. It reminds me of my childhood. It connects me to my family.
Suffice to say, I love going out to eat. And that's even with having a baby in tow, which is really saying something. Just like everything in life (read: skinny jeans, two-martini Tuesdays, and binge-watching seasons of Below Deck), I had to readjust my expectations when dining out with an infant. Here are some of the unexpected ways dining out changed when I had a baby.
1. Time is of the essence.
Expectation: Throw some Netflix on the phone, break out a teething ring, and the kid will be good for an hour and a half, easy.
Reality: When your kid becomes a toddler, you have more leeway with bribes and electronics. They understand the concepts of rewards and will often jump through hoops to get that coveted cartoon, brownie, or toy. When your kid (or at least my kid) is in the 12-month-and-under crowd, no dice. There is no toy or cartoon on heaven or earth that I have found that will hold my son's attention for longer than 20 minutes. And that's if he is eating something or laughing at funny faces family members are making.
It behooves me to order not just water the first time the server comes around, but also food. And when the food comes, I ask for a check. Meltdowns happen, but I like to avoid them whenever possible.
2. My kid wants my food.
Gone are the days where I could enjoy a juicy burger or an entire bowl of mashed potatoes by myself. Whatever I am eating, my baby inevitably wants. BBQ spareribs? Wants. Whitefish on a bialy? Wants. Maple glazed carrots on his own baby plate? Does not want. Is he screwing with me? Could food actually taste better from my plate? Does he somehow know it's a point of familial pride that he loves chopped liver? Whatever the case, I'm sure to order at least one food he can eat (sadly, ma po tofu is out until I'm ready to see if he loves Szechuan peppercorns the way I do) and I'm sure to eat quickly. Baby boy is fast and ruthless with a slice of pizza.
3. Most restaurants will have food for my baby.
I remember nervously scouring my favorite restaurant menus when my son started to eat solid food. They didn't have the soft meatballs I made at home! What if they put honey in his carrots? Will he be one of those people who hates cilantro? Then, we just went out to brunch one day. And he ate pancakes, eggs, and the banana from a fruit salad. Later that month, we went to lunch and he tried some poached salmon and risotto. The day he tried quesadillas was maybe the greatest day of his young life.
He doesn't love everything, but there has never been a time when I have had to pull food out from my diaper bag in order to feed him. I like to save those for those really fun times when we are in traffic or I have to distract him while getting shots at the office. I've found feeding an infant to be much easier than feeding a slightly older child with a lot of opinions. For the time being his opinions are, "Is mom going to pull this out of my mouth? No? Score!"
And one big tip.
Literally. Leave one big tip. If you're eating with a kid, chances are you are making a mess, asking for dish modifications, requesting water be brought immediately, or other favors. Even if you bring a trash bag and lay it out underneath your kid's high chair, as I often do, the spaghetti strands have a habit of straying off the corner of the trash bag.
Your server works their tail off normally, so if you leave a trail of muffin crumbs as you leave or accidentally spill two glasses of milk, say thank you with Mr. Green.