I have a newborn, but I’m not ready to change my dining habits.
There's never been a better time to dine out in America. For starters, there’s affordable omakase popping up around the country; there’s next-level Southeast Asian food going on in Minneapolis; and there are really phenomenal rabbit terrine and chicken hearts in Dallas, just to name a few. There’s a lot of wonderful food (and hard work) happening in restaurants right now, and I'm always itching to try someplace new.
As a new mom, I cherish the moments I can leave my apartment for a meal and indulge in a brief escape from everyday responsibilities. The act of getting taken care of in some way—by kitchen staff, waitstaff, the barista making that second coffee I so desperately need at 8 a.m.—feels especially nice once you've become responsible for every aspect of another human’s life. While dining out is more difficult with a baby in tow, it’s still really important to me. Bringing my baby along helps her get used to new places and people (at least that’s what I’m telling myself), and it helps me maintain a little normalcy in my life.
My own experiences eating out as a baby tended to be so traumatic to fellow diners—a particular instance involved me throwing individual grains of rice all over the carpet of a Chinese restaurant, and being asked to never return again—that I am sensitive to the fact that by choosing to bring my infant with me to restaurants, I am affecting not only the quality of my meal, but also the meals of those dining around me.
With that in mind, I spoke to Jordan Salcito, mom to three-year-old Henry, founder of RAMONA and Bellus wines, and Director of Wine Special Projects at Momofuku. She’s been eating out with her son since he was a few weeks old, and knows a thing or two about how to do it right.
Thinking of doing the same? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Choose the location wisely.
There’s nothing worse than making the (huge) effort to venture out with your baby, only to then discover that the restaurant you’ve chosen to go to is wildly inappropriate for kids. This means avoiding places that you know will be super loud or crowded or especially overstimulating, and generally doing a little homework before you head out.
“A good rule of thumb is that restaurants whose owners are parents tend to be particularly accommodating and non-judgemental,” says Jordan. Take this advice to heart and realize that infancy is probably not the ideal time for your child to become acquainted with Michelin-starred fare.
Honestly, if you have a newborn or young child at all, planning has become one of your biggest superpowers—use it here. For me, that means packing a comical amount of stuff to bring with me, including everything you might need to change a diaper (in a bathroom that may not be child-friendly), extra food or a shawl for nursing and an outfit change.
Another aspect that requires a little thought is the timing of your meal. Pre-Baby Me loved to eat at peak-hours, when the restaurant was bustling with activity, but New Mom Me knows that it’s actually a better idea to eat when the place is quiet—whether that is early in the morning before the brunch crowd even wakes up, or the literal moment that they open for dinner service, at an hour earlier than you thought possible. Jordan agrees, “I would say the thing that’s changed most is the reservation time I request! I used to be a 9 p.m. kind of person. Now I am fully on board with the early bird special, especially when Henry’s my date.”
Pay attention to your surroundings.
If you’re considering bringing a stroller with you, think about where you’ll store it during the meal. Some family-oriented, larger-layout restaurants may have room for you to roll it right up to your table without interrupting the flow of service, others might even check it for you, and others won’t allow you to bring them in at all. It’s never a bad idea to look into this before you actually arrive, and if all else fails, invest in a good bike lock for curb parking.
Your seating choice can also drastically improve your experience, so don’t be afraid to ask be seated in the corner of a restaurant. You’ll be a little out of the way if your little one starts to get fussy, and booth or banquet seating makes feedings easier and a little more comfortable.
Enjoy your meal and get on with your day.
Nothing breaks the spell of a relaxing meal out like a tired, stressed out, overstimulated, or hungry baby. Enjoy your meal, but realize that you may need to alter it to flow with your child’s schedule. Your four week old may be able to sleep through a full tasting menu so that you can enjoy the heck out of it, but your four month old probably won’t. Be flexible, and pat yourself on the back for even making it out of the house.