Emily Post may have written the book on etiquette, but she didn’t include a chapter on dining out with a baby. Trust me, I looked. While my husband and I were eager (read desperate) to get out of the house in those early weeks and months, we were very hesitant to go to a restaurant. I only got one piece of advice on the matter from a longtime friend. She said, “Go out to eat every night! This is when you can!” I had no idea what she was talking about—until now.
My only experience dining out with a baby before becoming a parent was dining out with other people’s babies. I’d like to think I didn’t cringe when I heard a baby cry in a restaurant, but I can’t be so sure. Mama brain does that to you. There is one vivid memory: the infamous “NASCAR diaper change.” My husband and I were newlyweds checking out a Mexican restaurant shortly after we moved to East Tennessee. The tables were close together, but we didn’t mind sitting beside a family with a baby. The food (read margaritas) was good. Suddenly we heard the father exclaim, “It’s time for a NASCAR diaper change!” Everyone at his table cheered. That’s when he changed the baby’s very dirty diaper on the table just inches from our chips and salsa. Our eyes nearly popped out of our heads. We looked at each other and—although no words were spoken—we knew, “We’re NEVER going to do that.”
Fast forward a few years and one sweet little addition to our family. I don’t remember exactly when our little party of three ventured out to our first restaurant or where, but I do know we were armed with lots of stuff. Rattles. Blankets. Pacifiers. Diapers. All to ensure we (and other diners) could enjoy a peaceful meal. For the most part, it went surprisingly well. So we kept going out. (Even if I am a stay-at-home mom, who has the energy to cook at the end of the day?) We quickly learned every high chair and device for holding an infant carrier is different in every restaurant. (Really?!?) Despite that, we avoided any major catastrophes. Until we didn’t.
Fast forward again, this time to a highly-recommended (and family-friendly) Italian restaurant on a Florida summer night. A Frank Sinatra crooner with his band serenaded us as we sat, glass of wine in hand. Cheers to us! We were making our first family beach vacation happen! Just as we placed our order, our sweet daughter, just a few months old, turned into a child we’d never met before. The cries started out slowly and built to an ear-popping crescendo. My husband volunteered to take her for a stroll in the parking lot. As I sipped my wine, the hands on the clock kept ticking by. Finally, I called my husband but all I could hear were the wails of our baby. That’s when I asked the waitress to box up our dinners and bring the check. By the time I made it to the minivan, my husband was sweating and my daughter was red-faced, screaming and wearing nothing but a diaper. The short drive back to our rental house calmed her down and we ate our fancy Italian dinner from Styrofoam boxes.
We recovered from that incident and even ventured out to restaurants again. (Hesitantly, of course.) Once our daughter started eating solid foods we armed ourselves with different stuff. Sippy cups. Disposable plastic placemat. Doggie poop bags. (Not kidding.) Our sweet girl is an enthusiastic eater and makes a bit of a mess. (Like mother, like daughter.) That’s why my husband and I always try to contain the carnage. But some eating out episodes, like the great Cracker Barrel corn muffin annihilation, went down in our family history books. The corn muffin didn’t stand a chance. What wasn’t stuffed into her happy mouth was crushed into crumbs that went EVERYWHERE. We did our best to clean up her and the mess on the table. (That’s where the doggie poop bags come in.) But it was so bad my husband and I asked the waitress for a broom and dustpan so we could sweep the floor. The waitress said, “Absolutely not! It’s our pleasure. And most parents just get up and walk away from the table without doing anything.” My husband and I were dumbfounded then and are still amazed by our waitress’s confession. Of course we clean up after ourselves! People don’t?!? It makes us more thankful we have a dog cleanup brigade at home. It’s just like I learned in the Girl Scouts: Leave a place better than you found it.
My daughter, now quickly approaching two-years-old, is a well-behaved (mostly) and happy diner. I’ve had several strangers in restaurants remark, “She’s so young and she knows just what to do!” Simply put, practice makes perfect. For mom, dad and baby. Perhaps one day we’ll be a party of four. That’s when I hear the real family fun in restaurants begins!
What are your etiquette rules for dining out with a baby?