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May 10, 2012

Dining out with babies

A (prospective) new parents’ guide

You may have noticed the dearth of restaurant posts around here and assumed that, as a parent, I no longer leave my house. In fact, I still go out to eat a lot, I just have less time to photograph and blog.  But, pre-baby, I had worried that my dining out days were over.  Now, I will lift the veil of mystery for other first-time parents.  (Your mileage may vary, depending on baby.  My kid is just a toddler now, so this is not a guide to dining with toddlers.)

birthday dinner

Here are my general rules to dining out with babies.

1. Tip generously. No matter when or where you are, serving a table with a baby is a tough gig.  You’re probably not drinking. There’s another person at the table possibly creating havoc, but not ordering anything.  20% is the minimum, and I go up from there.

2. Be ready to walk out. We’ve never had to actually walk away from a meal, but I have taken the baby outside to soothe her. Everyone in the restaurant will thank you.

3. Not all times are created equal. Start loving lunch. We’ve gone out for many more nice lunches than dinners — people aren’t expecting a hushed ambiance at noon.  Embrace off hours.  We’ve been to Village Whiskey and several gastropubs — between 2:30 and 4:30.

4. Some spots are not meant for kids. My rule of thumb is, if it seats less than 30, come back on a date. They’re not going to be super happy about giving one of them up for a baby.

5. Know the spots that serve all afternoon.  We had more than a handful of grumpy outings in the early days, when we started a lunch plan at 12:30, only to walk up to the restaurant at 2:15 and find that lunch was long since over.

birthday kisses

These are a few spots that were especially gracious to us.  You have my continued gratitude for making new parents feel like they can leave the house.

Jones was our first meal out.  We meant to leave the house around 12:30, and in our new parent stupor, did not wash up on their doorstep for almost 2 hours. It was a good first choice as a relatively noisy restaurant, because I was hyper-sensitive to the possibility that we would disturb people. (Pro tip: Up to 2 months of age, your baby will almost certainly spend the entire meal sleeping in their carrier.  Don’t worry so much.)

Getting the fried chicken lunch at Mèmè was one of my only goals of maternity leave. I didn’t make it there until the very last Thursday, and we got 2 of the last 3 dishes.  Our waitress was not only very sweet about a baby joining us, but told us that her son, now 5, acted just the same way as a baby, and has always been a great restaurant-goer.  As my mother likes to say, you can never lay it on too thick for the parents.  Thanks; it was just the confidence boost we needed.

Prohibition Taproom was the first bar we took baby to. It was a slow afternoon, the bartender came over a few times to play with her, and we ended up chatting with a pair of patrons about strollers in the city.

The meatballs at Pizzeria Stella were the first restaurant dish our daughter ate with gusto.  The high chairs and hubbub at Parc have kept her entertained through many a brunch.  In fact, every Starr restaurant we’ve taken her to has been quite baby-friendly.

I love meatballs!

Smokin’ Betty’s is our default must-get-out-of-the-house restaurant — they serve all day, we’ve never had to wait, and their bread pudding french toast is an excellent incentive to get out the door before 2.  

Finally, a special tip of the hat to every server who trusted me when I told them she would handle a glass better than a plastic cup.  (She just ends up squeezing plastic cups.) Best wishes to all the parents and soon-to-be parents out there, and remember, a restaurant will always be happy to wrap your meal when faced with a screaming child.

relaxing with the birthday girl

For those playing “spot the photo”, among the many city restaurants that graciously welcomed us are (from top to bottom) Distrito, Garces Trading Company, Pizzeria Stella and Fare.

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