From Leslie Jones. She writes about urban motherhood every two weeks in her column TWB Poo (There Will Be Poo). You can email her at leslie[AT]borderstan.com and follow her on Twitter @ThereWillBePoo.
A guide to dining out and conflict resolution.
I love going to restaurants. I like to try new places and I keep a close eye on the Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best Restaurants. I also worked as a sever in a busy upscale restaurant in NYC, in another life when I was pursing an acting career. And now I’m a mom.
I dealt with some unbelievable people and situations working in the restaurant industry. People, with and without children, feel free to really let their crazy hang out when dealing with waiters. I’ve also been surprised, since becoming a mom, how much unsolicited parenting advice comes my way; and I’ve even written about it! A recent discussion thread on DC Urban Moms and Dads made me think that perhaps some guidelines for dining out were in order.
Guide to Dining Out with Baby
1. Don’t leave a mess.
Kids are messy and Baby loves to throw food on the floor. So I do something really novel. I pick it up. I’m not suggesting that you crawl under the table and make a scene, but you can give your child foods less likely to cause a mess and pick up what you can. When I was a server, it used to drive me crazy when families would create a disaster zone around their tables and just pretend it wasn’t there. If you’ve got your hands full with your child and you can’t address the mess, at least apologize for it and leave a big tip.
2. If your child is being disruptive, do something about it.
Please don’t just continue your conversation as if nothing is happening. You may have developed a super human ability to ignore the noise, but other restaurant patrons have not. It doesn’t matter where you are, the Diner or Cork, a screaming kid in a restaurant is not appropriate. Do what you have to do*, bribe her with food and toys, and when all else fails, take the child outside until he calms down, or get the check and leave. Any noise above the volume of a normal conversational tone isn’t appropriate. If it’s a loud family restaurant, the acceptable volume will be a little higher; if it’s an upscale restaurant, it will be a little lower.
*Banging silverware on the table is not an appropriate distraction activity
3. Choose an appropriate destination and/or time.
We took Baby to Bourbon Steak for my mom’s birthday back in March. However, we went at 5:30pm, right when they started serving dinner, when we knew the restaurant would be pretty empty and the “serious” diners wouldn’t have arrived yet. I knew that Baby could stay calm and quiet for about an hour, and Husband and I were both prepared to leave when necessary. Baby was very accommodating, but she started getting restless after the second course. We skipped dessert.
I met a friend for lunch at Commissary earlier this summer. Baby has become less cool with dining out as she’s gotten older. I brought lots of snacks and toys, and it was a quick lunch. I wasn’t as concerned about baby chatter because it was lunchtime at a casual restaurant, but I handed the waitress my credit card at the first sign of trouble.
Choose a casual restaurant and/or an early dinnertime, or go for brunch or lunch. Be realistic about your child’s ability to sit still and eat quietly. Bring lots of supplies. And just accept the fact that you may have to leave abruptly. If you can’t resign yourself to a doggy bag, get a sitter.
4. Teach older children to say please and thank you.
“I wanna ‘nother coke!” is not the appropriate way to make a request to your server, no matter your age.
Guide to Dining Out Near Baby
1. You are not the parenting/etiquette police.
The discussion thread on the DC Urban Moms and Dads forum addressed the issue of dining out with kids. The original poster described being verbally assaulted by another patron while having breakfast with her self-described “spirited” toddler who she said was being relatively well behaved, but somewhat vocal. Confronting another diner is NEVER appropriate. I don’t care if the child is screaming, while banging silverware on the table, and throwing food on the floor. If you have a problem, appeal to the management. And maybe give the offending party the “stink-eye” as one forum poster mentioned.
Most parents are pretty horrified that their child is acting up. And just because I’m bribing my kid with food to stay quiet at the moment a) doesn’t mean that’s my standard practice, I’m just trying to make it through this meal, and b) doesn’t mean you have any right to critique my parenting. If someone is abusing a child, call CFSA; otherwise, feel free to think all kinds of snarky thoughts, but keep your mouth shut.
Another poster on the same forum thread recommended the McSweeny’s article, “Hello Stranger on the Street”, by Wendy Molyneux. Super funny and perhaps helps people put their parenting advice in perspective. It made me giggle.
When you head out to dinner with your little one, just be realistic about the situation and acknowledge the fact that not everyone finds your baby as adorable as you do when she shrieks with delight. And if you’re on the receiving end of baby noise in a restaurant, try to remember or imagine what it’s like to be a parent and cut the offending parties a little slack. I’ve been on all three sides of the dining out experience, childless patron, server, and patron with child. And these are the rules according to… well, me.