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Eating out with a baby & toddler (a dad’s guide)

Written by Steven White

The Out of Depth Dad considers the perils and solutions of eating out in public with children…

It used to be your favourite thing to do (well, one of your favourites at least) but now the mere mention of it sends shivers down your spine.

No, I’m not talking about going to see the latest Batman movie (who says I’m not topical?) – this is The Out of Depth Dad guide to Eating Out With a Baby & Toddler. Trust me, this will change your life *.

*It probably won’t.

There comes a time in every parent’s life when sitting in your nappy-scented home, for hour after hour, cleaning up your baby’s sick, sterilising bottles and watching Judge Rinder while your toddler gives a constant booming commentary of every thought that passes through their mind is no longer the fun it once was. It’s at this point that the idea of taking your children to a restaurant crosses your mind. Yet you’re reticent, with good reason.

The Out of Depth Dad

What will the baby do?

What will your toddler do?

And then there are the other diners to think of…

All of this potential stress is often enough to stop parents from leaving the confines of their homes. Don’t let it happen to you!

Here’s my advice:

Don’t be an arsehole

The arrival of a baby and toddler in a restaurant is never EVER going to make their parents popular. We’ve all been there. You go out for a quiet meal, perhaps in the hope of it going so well that you skip dessert, and next thing you know a family arrives at the next table with their screaming feral offspring. Your meal is ruined – you eat quickly and call for the bill. The family on the next table, however, are having a great time.

Don’t be that family. 

A little consideration for your fellow diners goes a long way. It’ll make your meal a lot more pleasant to know everyone else in the room isn’t hating your guts.

Don’t be too nice

Trying to be considerate to other diners is all very well – but don’t be crippled by it. Children make noise, it’s as simple as that. As long as you appear to be making attempts to minimise the chaos then you’re doing your job. You’re not going to have a silent meal – it’s impossible. Don’t let your baby making normal baby sounds ruin your meal. Your toddler is not going to be quiet, or sit in one spot for an hour. Life’s not like that. Recognise this and don’t worry when your kids act like kids. You need a break too, remember?

Be prepared

If you’re properly prepared then the whole ‘eating out’ experience will be infinitely easier. That said, for many parents, leaving the house wearing two matching shoes can be a struggle, so let’s not set our sights too high! It’s totally possible to get through a meal with ease, by timing it to coincide with your baby’s nap time – which means you’ve only got the toddler to deal with! Bring essentials like milk and their favourite toys to ease things along. That said, even the most prepared person in the world might find themselves in a restaurant with a baby and toddler who suddenly refuse to play ball. There is a big chance this will turn into chaos – recognise this and move on.

Lower your standards

Do you like eating out at nice restaurants? Sorry, but those days are over. From now on you’ll be dining in places that have ‘Happy’, ‘Big’ & ‘Wacky’ in their titles. The food is undeniably crap, the tables are sticky and there’s a constant whiff of vomit, but you’ll feel so much more relaxed in these places. Why? For one thing, there’ll always be another kid doing exactly what you were dreading. So, if your child does melt down, it’s unlikely anyone will notice.

NB: A bit of advice: never eat from a buffet bar in one of these establishments. They are at the perfect height for little (snotty) hands to reach and play with the food – before putting it back.

Go early

Visiting a restaurant during peak times will put you in line for a whole heap of pain. Late food, loud customers, stroppy staff and over-crowded eating areas are no fun with a baby and toddler in tow.

Perhaps consider going for your meal early or late? Dinner at 2am is sure to leave you with the place to yourself. If this is too extreme, find out when an establishment starts serving food and be there on the dot. A Sunday Roast at 10:30 am may seem weird, but it’s far more relaxed than eating it at 1pm like everyone else.

Be ready with comebacks

Having a few witty retorts to use with the inevitable malcontents you’ll experience will make your trip much easier. When you find Clive and Norma moaning about the noise you’re making, glaring from behind their copies of The Mail On Sunday, be sure to respond appropriately. Loudly shouting phrases such as: “He may be still infectious, I’m not sure!” and “I’ll take her outside to change her nappy on the bonnet of that Lexus,” will leave you feeling far more relaxed.

Other options

Perhaps, if you think going out to eat with your baby and toddler is just too much stress, you could make a meal at home feel like you’re in a restaurant. Consider inviting some strangers into your home to glare in your direction, as you eat cold, substandard food. In many ways, with a bit of effort, eating in can be just as much ‘fun’ as eating out.

To find out more about Chris McGuire, visit outofdepthdad.com or follow @Outofdepth_dad on Twitter.

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