My husband and I have a son who is now 18 months old. That means we have over a year under our belts, yet our childfree years (full of travel, events and dining) are still fresh in our minds.
Having a child has been awesome but also an adjustment for us, and we’ve learned a few tricks and tips—as well as new preferences—along the way. I’m no expert—I learn lessons all the time—but here are some things I’ve learned about navigating entertainment (especially dining):
Know what’s appropriate (or devise a way to find out):
This seems so obvious to me, but find restaurants, events and travel stops that are age-appropriate and cater to kids. Do they have a kid’s menu? Coloring placemats and crayons? Are you going to be disturbing someone else’s expensive evening if your kid cries? Do you see lots of other people taking their kids on the tour? Is it noisy or quiet? Is there an hour wait or can you get right in? Read online reviews for blunt opinions on the matter of kids being welcomed and accommodated.
Sometimes it’s not obvious whether kids are welcome, but most places are happy to answer questions if you contact them. Sometimes it’s tough to discern whether an establishment welcomes kids. In those cases, I’ve simply learned to call or just be totally upfront—“We have a one-year-old—is this okay for him?” And learn to live with the answer, even if it’s “no.”
Some things may actually surprise you. For instance, our first long evening out post-baby was to a Cincinnati Pops concert. We were pleased to learn that kids were more than welcome and were even FREE to attend on the lawn. We were at the Banks recently and were looking for a place to eat with another couple and their toddler. I would not have guessed that the Yard House was accommodating to kids, but it was set up very well to entertain and feed them. All we had to do was ask if they were.
Which brings me to my next point:
Kids don’t belong everywhere-but they do belong lots of places
Sometimes it’s disheartening to read comments online of people who dismiss all children as “brats” but it’s most annoying when the place in question clearly welcomes kids ( I recently read an aquarium review that said kids should not be allowed—true story).
Now, some parents give the majority a bad name by dragging their infants into bars or fit-throwing toddlers to five-star restaurants. But if you’re going to a burger joint at lunchtime on a Saturday, you should probably expect to be dining with some little ones.
There are many people who don’t like kids and would rather not be around them—I’m actually ok with that, even if I don’t agree. But at a certain point we all have to agree that kids must be exposed to public places and social situations in order to learn how to behave properly.
It’s my personal parenting philosophy that I should hold up my end of the bargain as a parent- patron: I choose appropriate places, make my child mind and keep him entertained and reasonably quiet. If I’m meeting these criteria, I hope that childfree people I encounter can appreciate that and coexist with us in a public space without glares and negative comments.
A little more effort and a lot of extra consideration
Kids are messy. I always try to pick up the table, floor and high chair. There is no reason to leave your restaurant table completely trashed, and perhaps the staff members will have a positive outlook towards a table with kids in the future rather than pass them off like a hot potato.
Despite your best efforts, sometimes a baby will cry or your toddler will start throwing a fit. Parents don’t always like to hear this, but I believe it is my place as a parent to remove a child from a situation if he or she is disturbing others. Yes, it means sometimes I’m stared at and sometimes my husband or I eat a cold dinner—but it’s just one of those things I think we signed up for when we decided to be parents. I don’t think I need to jump up for every little peep, but I certainly don’t think it’s fair to let a kid disturb an entire restaurant.
Sometimes you pick a kid-friendly place, but you notice a couple on what is clearly a romantic date. Be upfront with the hostess that you have a little one who may disturb someone trying to enjoy a quiet time. Most of the time they will seat you away from others if it’s doable.
While you shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells, I can assure you the people around you will appreciate when you develop these small habits. I’ve had strangers compliment us for doing these very simple things.
Contribute to the Commons
Much of what I have written may come across as common sense to others. However, these are all things I’ve learned in my first year of parenthood, so something tells me others have had the same questions and experiences. If you learn a lesson the hard way, or you have something really nice to say about how well a restaurant catered to your child, please write a review and share your knowledge with others.
That being said, when you review a restaurant you found to not be accommodating, please be fair.
We had a recent experience at a restaurant that welcomed kids on paper but was a totally different story once we were seated. I would never publically eviscerate that restaurant based on one experience, but I will be specific on what issues we had so that others know what to expect.
There are a few products we’ve found that make life easier when out and about (these are my opinions; I have not been sponsored or compensated). Here is a quick rundown:
1. When we’re on the go and need to pack some snacks or a meal, this is my go-to container. It collapses flat and comes with a plastic utensil.
· 2. Bibs with scoops to catch crumbs are perfect for restaurants.
· 3. This placemat suctions to a tabletop and has a scoop for catching stray food!
· 4. If you attach toys and a sippy cup to the restaurant high chair, you won’t be chasing them every five minutes!
Lastly, there are a few things I’d love restaurants to know!
- Be honest and specific about kids at your establishment. Publish the details on your site and make sure the people who answer your phones know the drill. Helpful information includes: high chair/booster chair availability, kid’s menu, changing stations, breastfeeding accommodations and average wait times.
- If you can help it, be quick! I understand that we can’t walk into a popular restaurant at 7 pm and be seated right away. But over the weekend, we were trying to wrangle our son while the hostess told us she could not seat us in the empty restaurant because our entire party was not present. It seemed silly and it didn’t benefit anyone.
- Don’t be condescending if you are set up for kids and people bring kids. You either want them there or you don’t.
- Please put changing tables in women’s AND men’s restrooms.
- I usually come prepared, but an activity and snack while kids are waiting is a huge plus.
- A word on kid’s menus: healthy options are a sight for sore eyes!
A huge thank you to Food Hussy for allowing me to guest post this week. I hope both parents and non-parents alike find it helpful!