How to Survive Going Out to Dinner With Children
One of the most annoying things that happens when your family gets pregnant is people talking to you about the things you need to do before you have a kid. Stuff like "see as many movies in the theater as possible," and "sleep in" and "remember you love each other." But the most irking to me is "go out to dinner as much as possible."
In my opinion, eating a meal out is one of life's small luxuries, and having a child doesn't mean you have to exchange said luxury for meals at home and clown-themed kiddie restaurants. But you also need to accept that the paradigm has shifted. You can still do it, it's just going to be different. But here's how to do it correctly.
1. Stop trying to go to the nicest and hippest and newest places
I'm not saying you shouldn't go to these places generally to enjoy their hot new takes on dandelion greens and kohlrabi. I'm just saying that you might want to reserve these types of spots for nights out with a babysitter. New, hip places tend to be crowded and unfriendly to the kid element, and nice places should just be off the list, because frankly, no one who comes to a nice, expensive place, possibly for a special occasion, deserves to also bear witness to your child spitting the amuse-bouche onto their oyster fork.
You should still be able to pick good, cool spots, but, you know, maybe the ones that have been around for a little bit and might give you a little more space and cut you more slack and don't serve amuse-bouches.
2. Just go early and deal with it
Yes, this advice may seem obvious, but there have been several recent occasions when I've been out to dinner sans children at 9:30pm and seen toddlers absolutely dragging and losing their shit while their parents are still cranking on the cabernet. And maybe that is a French thing, and you're not supposed to let your kid dictate your schedule, but I also recognize that when children sleeps a regular amount of time, they are tiny angel people, and when they sleep an irregular amount of time, they are all basically tiny Cersei Lannisters.
Plus, whenever we show up to a restaurant with our child and it's 5pm or like 9am on the weekend and I see some other non-children'd people in there, I mentally am like, "OK, other people. By agreeing to come this early to a restaurant, you have basically already signed a release stating that you are OK with children and will not sigh audibly when my daughter inevitably starts shouting every noun she knows."
3. Stay outdoors whenever possible
Now, I live in California so it's cheating because I can basically eat outdoors year-round and just pick beautiful citrus and avocados off the ground at random bus stops. But from what I've seen on the Weather Channel, other states also have temperate weather sometimes, and sitting outside whenever possible is amazing, because:
A) If your child happens to be a screamer, those noises seem much less intense outside.
B) This usually allows easy escapes, both during the meal if one parent needs to snag their child and take them on a walk while the other one chugs mezcal cocktails and stuffs duck-fat fries into their mouth as fast as possible, or after you've paid the check when you don't want to make eye contact with anyone on the staff because the area around your table looks like the end of a level on the arcade game Rampage. Which reminds me: TIP WELL.
4. Or be happy with Siberia
Remember the days when you'd be upset about a crappy table next to the kitchen or in the second-tier auxiliary dining room in the back? I laugh at those days (but it's like a sad, weepy kind of laugh). Just embrace the Siberian table placement. Hell, even ask for it.
Much like the DEFCON system used by the United States Military, we also have an alert state set up for all public eating events with our kid.
5. Pre-scout the menu
If you are not a regular at this restaurant, do yourself a favor and scout the menu online, so you can feel prepared walking in that there is something your kid can eat, and you're not spending half of the time with the menu frantically searching side dishes to see if any kind of look like hot dogs.
But if you really want to go to this Georgian place, and you're not sure that little Jean-Luc will like khachapuri adjaruli BECAUSE HE IS AN UNCULTURED MONSTER, come prepared with some dinner for the child. Restaurants give a shit about corkage, but their generally pretty chill if your child is eating contraband blended-up carrots and apples.
6. Build in layers of placating foods/objects
Much like the DEFCON system used by the United States military, we also have an alert state set up for all public events with our kid. For me, each level is there to buy you extra time before a final breakdown. Ours generally involves a couple of books, one to three smaller stuffed animals, milk, water, a couple of food pouches, Cheerios, and cheddar Goldfish, for when shit is really out of hand.
7. Don't ignore your kid if they're crying or screaming or whatever
I really don't care if you're trying a new system at home in which you've decided that the best way to combat little Jean-Valjean's temper tantrums is by ignoring them, WE'RE ALL SITTING RIGHT HERE AROUND HIM NOT IGNORING IT. In public is not the place to test things out -- please remove your child if they're melting down. Please. For everyone.
8. If all else fails, have a show downloaded on your phone
Yes, I know babies are addicted to screens and all of our children are going to have chips implanted into their brains and get driven to school by self-driving drones. But hey, look at 22-year-olds! It's already happened.
Clearly, the machines have won, and if that episode of Sesame Street where Elmo and Abby are trying to calm down chickens during a thunderstorm is going to grant me a few minutes of peace to finish a glass of wine and the rest of that khachapuri, I'll just admit I'm an imperfect parent, and concede the point.
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