Restaurant Debacles & Delights: 12 Ways My Kid Has Changed Dining Out

Mason, dining at the Argonaut in Washington, DC, while accompanying Chris on the restaurant beat last summer.

Chris and I met in a newsroom but fell in love over food. Although our courtship took place a decade ago, we still remember the dishes that marked the major milestones in our relationship. The BBQ ribs from our first dinner together. The fondue we shared on our first Valentine’s Day. The crab cake sandwiches we ate the day we decided to live together. The red snapper we enjoyed the night we got engaged. And so on. After we got married we started to cook a lot and we fell in love with food (and each other) even more. When Mason was born we were determined to teach him to love food as much as we do. In addition to cooking together, an important part of his culinary education is going to restaurants as often as possible.  Here are the best and worst parts about dining out with our one-year-old.

First, the delights:

1. The laughs. Bug loves action and New York City restaurants have plenty of it. He also enjoys the quirky characters he meets while dining out — they crack him up. What’s more fun than the sound of your child laughing?

2. The break. Someone else does the cooking, clears the table, and sweeps the floor. With all of my responsibilities as a working mom I’ve never appreciated this mealtime help more.

3. The new (to Mason) cuisines. Mason loves different flavors, particularly curry, and we’ve been lucky enough to introduce him to restaurants where people serve authentic dishes from their native countries.

4. The entertainment. See #1. In our experience, even the biggest curmudgeon can’t keep a straight face when a baby laughs — as long as said baby keeps laughing and doesn’t start screaming.

5. The date night. Chris and I eat alone in restaurants about twice a month now. Before Mason, we dined out at least four times a week.  Now that dining out a deux is more of a rarity, we really enjoy it and each other.

6. The smarter spending. Since we’re only ordering the wine, the appetizers, and the desserts twice a month instead of several times a week we’ve saved a ton for our new, more important expenses, including Mason’s education.

Mason — cranky but keeping it together — while eating homemade sweet potato puree on the patio of a local restaurant.

Now for the debacles:

1. The meltdowns. There’s only been one (so far) — but the memory of it still stresses me out. We went to a cute cafe for dinner with a friend who hadn’t seen Mason in months and when I attempted to buckle him into a highchair he screamed so loudly (and unrelentingly) that we had to leave before our drinks arrived.

2. The mess. At a local Italian restaurant, Mason “painted” the white tablecloth with pizza sauce and then threw what was left of his meal on the floor. We cleaned up the floor but there was nothing we could do to save that tablecloth. Oy.

3. The delays. Mason’s at that age where he can only sit still for so long so if the food is late — regardless of the number of books, toys, snacks we bring — it’s over.  Thank goodness for to-go boxes and understanding servers.

4. The inconveniences. A local cafe offers beautiful antique high chairs — but the trays, which lift up, don’t lock. Another cafe, which hosts kids activities every week, doesn’t have changing tables in the bathrooms (or anywhere else).

5. The speed eating. Before Mason, we made a habit of ordering several different dishes as well as after-dinner drinks. Now we cut straight to the entrees and eat quickly — before his good mood (and behavior) sours!

6. The (always) cold food. By the time I get Bug settled and make sure that he has everything he needs, my food is cold. Instead of ordering a dish that needs to be hot to be good, such as steak, I’ve learned to stick to salads.

What are your favorite/least favorite parts about dining out with your baby or toddler?

Photos by Chris Shott (top) and Kevin Wexler

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  1. by Liz W

    On November 8, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    Why not ask the kid’s meal come out with the appetizers (or whenever it’s ready)? Then you can get him settled before the main course comes out.

  2. by Logan mama

    On November 8, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    Wow, looks like Mason really enjoying his dinner from the photo. Does he eat with spoon? Great!

    Thank you for bringing up for this topic. We love food and wine and we go out a lot before we have baby. But right now, we go limited place which has high chair, kids friendly, serves kids meals. And even I cannot spend same time for cooking at home right now that I used to.

    I am not sure this is good but this is what I am doing right now.

    When we go to restaurant, we try to go less crowded time. For lunch around / after 1:30 pm or around 11:30 AM, and for dinner Sunday early evening, etc…
    I bring some healthy finger food just in case he does not like food, or getting board, and ask desert for takeout.

    For to keep my cooking time, prepare as much as possible like marinate meat / cutting vegetable etc, before going bed for next day’s dinner.

  3. by Logan mama

    On November 8, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Looks like Mason really enjoying dinner from the photo. Does he eat with spoon?

    Thank you for bringing up for this topic. We love food and wine and we go out a lot before we have baby. But right now, we go limited place which has high chair, kids friendly, serves kids meals. And even I cannot spend same time for cooking at home right now that I used to.

    I am not sure this is good but this is what I am doing right now.

    When we go to restaurant, we try to go less crowded time. For lunch around / after 1:30 pm or around 11:30 AM, and for dinner Sunday early evening, etc…
    I bring some healthy finger food just in case he does not like food, or getting board, and ask desert for takeout.

    For to keep my cooking time, prepare as much as possible like marinate meat / cutting vegetable etc, before going bed for next day’s dinner.

  4. by Heather

    On November 8, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Liz: That’s a great suggestion but unfortunately if we go that route then he’s finished and wants to leave just as our food arrives!

    Logan mama: Such great ideas, thank you! Mason doesn’t eat with a spoon so much as he plays with it:).

  5. by Sarah

    On November 8, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    Sounds all too familiar!
    I swear that eating out is how I lost all my post-baby weight after my 1st. No one tells you that you won’t have time to eat or that you’ll only eat half your meal (because that’s all you have time for).
    I love when servers offer/bring my 3 yr old some crackers, or sliced apples out before our food. My husband has also loaded some movies on his phone for the rare occasion that a meltdown is about to happen. It keeps her occupied (and quiet) for a bit and allows us to finish our food.

  6. by Ann

    On November 8, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    I took John to a fine dining establishment, where they did not have a changing table. I ended up changing him on the bench in the waiting area, in hopes the situation would be remedied once the owner/hostess was aware of the situation. Have not been back yet, but eventually will make it back.

  7. by Heather

    On November 8, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Sarah: Love the movie idea, thank you!

    Ann: Too funny! Hopefully they got the hint:)

  8. by Lavi

    On November 8, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    Bring a portable highchair with you. We bring our travel one to every place we go & our 12 month old loves it. It’s her own gable & she’s comfortable in it. This way we don’t have to worry about their tables and such. Makes for a much more happier dinner time.

  9. by Jo Ann

    On November 9, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    When you go out to eat with a toddler, why does every restaurant usually only have breakable cups/ plates? Quinn has broken at least 2 plates, and one glass. Also, most places do not have lids on their cups, so you always have to make sure to bring your own.

  10. by Sam

    On November 9, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Great article about the highs and lows. I used to go out with my girls as they were fairly well-behaved. Now that I have added 2 boys that are 1 year apart in age I never eat out though! LOL. It is far too stressful for me to manage making sure everyone is happy and no one is kicking anyone or burping the alphabet. They do go out with their Dad’s family so for now I will bow out of this task (1 of the 647,568 tasks per day) and let them handle the madness. Hopefully they don’t turn into restaurant monsters when they are older!

  11. by tara

    On November 9, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    another way eating out changes is the endless trips to the bathroom you take all because your 2-5 yr old just has to pee. the one time i ate out with my 6 yr old and newly potty trained 2 yr old. she would NOT use the potty in the restaurant at all even with the soft potty seat on top. we ended up leaving rather quickly to go buy a potty chair at the nearest target. from that day on, i didnt go without a potty chair in the car

  12. by Denise

    On November 9, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    I used to always make sure I had a bag of cheerios, some type of fruit and a sippy cup or bottle. That way the meltdowns were minimal and if the food was late she was content. Also take some of their favorite little toys

  13. by Seriously?

    On November 10, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Most of the commentators here seem like thoughtful, responsible parents, but I DO have to comment on Ann’s response. Why on earth would you think it’s appropriate to take a toddler to a fine dining establishment and then expect them to have a changing table? O_O fine dining restaurants are not there to cater to babies/toddlers. There are plenty of restaurants out there of the casual/family variety that would be more suitable for your child (and have a changing table). And changing your child in the entry way as a passive-aggressive suggestion to get a changing table? Disgusting! If I was a guest there and saw you doing that, I WOULD complain. Completely inappropriate!

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  15. by sheasmama

    On November 19, 2011 at 12:46 am

    I have been in this industry for almost 10 years and my husband is a chef. We have a 15 month old girl and have been taking her out to eat from the first week she was born. We set rules and limits and if she disrespects those, we leave. It stinks for us but ensures that when she is a little bit older, she will know the rules and understand that going out to eat is a privilege. For instance, if she starts to totally lose her cool and begins throwing her food or cup or fork, it’s taken away. I can only assume that if she’s ceased from eating, she’s not hungry anymore. She also will sign “all done” when she’s finished. We go out to eat a lot with her grandparents and they are helpful in that one of them may take her to walk around outside or go look around so we can eat.
    We work in a casual but nice dining restaurant and we don’t have a changing table and it drives me crazy! I always have to take her out to the car and change her there but really it’s not the end of the world (just slightly inconvenient). We really only take her to family friendly places right now because of her age but in the past were able to go to nicer restaurants. Hopefully in the future, she will understand our rules and be able to sit at the table until we are all finished!

  16. by Julia Passamani

    On July 12, 2012 at 9:55 am

    Love this post! Unfortunately, we always speed eat now with our toddler! Sometimes we’re pleasantly surprised and can relax as he’s distracted with all we bring (coloring books, book, Thomas the Train)… We’ve had lots of embarssing meals with friends when our toddler was defiant. Raising Bebe would be the ideal, but the well trained French kids in restaurants seems easier said than done! (http://lipstickandlollypops.wordpress.com/)