Many new parents’ fear of taking their baby out to restaurants or cafes is about the “what if” scenarios…what if they don’t stop crying? Or scream at the top of their lungs at the couple beside us? Or have a nappy explosion over the leather seating? Or smush fries into the carpet the entire time? Realistically, you’re never going to know what’ll happen until you actually go for it!
Read on for 11 tips for eating out with your baby – and you’ll be ready for anything.
1. Set your expectations and mentally prep
Know what you’re getting into. You’re taking your baby to a new place, with lots of new people around, with new sights and sounds – don’t expect the entire event to go perfectly. If it does, fantastic! And it’ll probably be fine either way. But still, be prepared for your baby to possibly not be so receptive to this new experience.
With this mindset, you should anticipate what could happen (nappy explosion, a hungry baby, etc.), then plan how you can deal with it and what you’ll do. Spending a bit of time just thinking about these possible scenarios will prevent anything taking you by surprise in the moment!
Being mentally prepared makes such a difference. Try it and you’ll see!
2. Choose an appropriate location
Aim to go to “child-friendly” places. No, this doesn’t mean you’re stuck dining at Maccas or KFC. But do opt for places that don’t mind having babies and children around.
How can you tell if a place is child-friendly? A few things to look out for include:
- Separate kids menu
- Presence and availability of high chairs or booster seats
- Colouring pages and pencils on the tables or available for taking
- Connected playground is a lifesaver if you have toddlers or an older child! (RSL clubs often have these)
Either check out the eatery beforehand to check for these things, or call ahead to find out.
Also, this doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to these types of places either! Other appropriate locations include ones where there’s plenty of space to walk around (so you can take your little one for a tour while waiting for your meal to arrive), or venues with interesting distractions like an aquarium (Chinese restaurants are great for this!) or vibrant and colourful wall decor.
One other thing to consider when choosing your dining destination is the noise level of the place – establishments which are a little louder can be great if you know your baby is a noisy babbler. Restaurants with soft music where you hear the clink of china plates and crystal glasses probably aren’t ideal!
3. Time it well
Choose your timing wisely – try to avoid your baby’s fussy periods if possible. Aim for 6pm reservations instead of 9pm, or if evenings are particularly tricky, maybe make more lunchtime plans instead (by scheduling it right after the morning nap and well before the afternoon one).
Another timing consideration is your baby’s feeding routine. You do not want to be out with a cranky, hungry baby! Work within your little one’s schedule, and make sure they’re well fed before you leave your house. This is generally better than aiming to feed them when you get to the restaurant, because you’ll likely have a stressful arrival and trip there as your bub screams and cries from hunger! Take care of them in the comfort of your own home first.
Depending on how well your baby is at sleeping with noise around them or in different places, eating out during their nap time could also prove to be ideal. If they fall asleep while you’re out, you can enjoy your meal totally uninterrupted – a mama’s dream!
4. Stock your baby bag
Before you leave the house, double check that your baby bag is complete with all the essentials – nappies, wipes, change of outfit, bibs, pacifiers…whatever you or baby might need while on the go. It’s also worth packing an extra bottle or snacks just in case (unless you’re breastfeeding) because sometimes when baby sees you eating they’ll want something too.
If your dinner plans overlap with your baby’s normal bedtime, also pack a blanket and any other bedtime soothers so they can hopefully fall asleep in the pram or at least for the drive home afterwards.
One particular essential to check for are wet wipes/baby wipes – for quickly tidying any messes your baby makes. Easier than having to ask and wait for the waiter to clean up after a spill!
5. Take a corner table
There’s a couple of reasons why this is a good place to sit, if one’s available.
- You’ll feel less self-conscious if baby starts to fuss (even though you shouldn’t worry about it!)
- You’ll have some extra privacy if you need to nurse
- If you brought a pram or carrier, you can keep it to the side so it doesn’t block any walkways
- Less people around you if baby decides to throw food everywhere
6. Set up the baby zone
If your baby is old enough to sit while supported, ask the restaurant for a high chair. That way, your little one can sit at the table with you and feel like part of the party! If you’re leaving them in a pram instead, sit down the end of the table where you can have it beside you without blocking a walkway.
Make sure you clear away potentially dangerous items or things that baby might grab/throw/put in their mouth while sitting on your lap. Keep the knives and glassware away!
7. Bring plenty of distractions
Distractions are key. If your baby isn’t napping, remaining entertained on their own is a lifesaver, leaving you to enjoy your meal uninterrupted.
For a while after arriving, baby may be content enough to look around at this new place and take in their surroundings. But eventually, they’ll get restless. And this is when you want your entertainment strategy ready for action… Bring out a toy!
When you’re grabbing a bunch of toys from home before heading out, be conscious to avoid anything that makes too much noise (no to the bongo drums, trumpet and toy dragon that makes a spectacularly loud roaring noise). Also, it’s best to avoid rolling toys that’ll end up on the other side of the room if they happen to fall on the ground. Board books and brightly coloured teething objects are generally the most suitable.
One idea is to have a set of “restaurant-only” toys, which are only brought out while eating out. The novelty of this will hopefully keep baby extra amused for longer. Alternatively, if baby has favourites then bring those along!
Most importantly, don’t just dump all the toys onto the table/high chair/pram all at once. Stagger them out and only bring out a new toy when baby seems to get bored of the last one. This will maximise the use of baby’s attention span. However, if you do happen to run out of toys…there’s still the table items! A napkin can be surprisingly entertaining at the best of times.
8. Interact with your baby
Don’t think of them as simply “tagging along”, but rather, they’re an additional little person joining your dinner outing! Rather than just putting your baby to the side with a pile of toys, make sure you chat with them – show them things around the restaurant, the objects on the table and your food. Even though they won’t fully appreciate what you’re saying, at least you’re giving them some attention and making them feel involved. It should hopefully be an exciting (and educational) experience for your baby!
9. Don’t drag it out
When baby’s in tow, it probably means it’s not the time to savour the 8-course degustation menu, or order the dish that warns you “needs at least 40 minutes to prepare”. Save the long romantic dinners with wine for when baby’s not there too.
Make it a relatively quick visit. No need to rush through your meal, but be conscious that baby could get restless after too long. Without being dramatic…they can be a little like tiny ticking time bombs. Mamas, you know what I mean.
A reliable benchmark is to stay no longer than one hour (unless your baby is particularly settled or manages to take a long nap – you’re the best judge of this).
Try to avoid the restaurant’s peak time. You’ll probably be seated quicker and get speedier service if you go when they’re less busy. Making a reservation ahead of time also avoids having to wait for a table when you get there.
In terms of eating, maybe skip the entrée and go straight for a main. Or check the menu ahead of time so you’re ready to order straight away.
Another thing you can do is ask for the bill early, such as midway through your meal when the waiter comes to ask you how things are going, or when you’re ordering dessert. This way if baby happens to become too restless, it’s easy to just pay and leave quickly.
If you’re stressed or anxious about the whole situation, your baby will pick up on it and is more likely to be fussy themselves. Just remember, you’re prepared for anything!
So when your baby cries or gets a little out of hand, just do your best to calm them down and divert their attention. Check if their happy need changing, try showing them a new toy, or take them for a quick walk outside to the car for a brief change of scenery.
If fussiness becomes a meltdown instead, don’t make a big deal of it or worry that’s it’s ruined the event. It’s pretty likely that most other patrons has been in a similar situation with kids of their own, or was that screaming child back in the day themselves!
11. Don’t get discouraged
Realistically, every time you eat out with your baby isn’t guaranteed to go perfectly. There will be times when you might need to leave early or leave a bigger tip because of minefield of regurgitated veggies around your chair. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again next time! You did your best, and no one can predict exactly what’ll happen each time.
However, by following these tips, the majority of the time you’ll have an amazing time eating out with your baby. And the more often you do it, the more prepared you’ll become as bub gets used to these new dining experiences.
But maybe save the 5 star, candlelit restaurant for baby-free date night.
Have you had experiences eating out with your baby? Any other advice? Tell me in the comments!