Bringing Out Bébé
Industry experts (moms) weigh in on how you can bring your little ones to restaurants and bars. And have a lot of fun doing it.
As far as motherhood is concerned, I am an absolute rookie. That being said, my son Jack has done his fair share of dining out around New England (and New Orleans actually — flying with a newborn deserves its own post) in his first 13 weeks on the outside.
Yes, I have to visit restaurants for work, but I’ve strapped him to my chest and dribbled guacamole on his sweet head at Cantina la Mexicana, and pushed a stroller through Aeronaut — a cold one in the cup holder — in pursuit of pleasure, with no reporting assignment to speak of.
Jack's been bounced through a fussy lobster roll dinner in Maine with the in-laws, and slept in a booth at All-Star Taco Bar. We bring him out quite a bit, and for the most part, he seems to enjoy it; either sleeping through the ruckus (I liken the din of a humming restaurant to a white-noise machine) or making eyes and giving gummy grins to friendly servers. Being out and about is part of being in our family, and we decided to start bringing him along right from the beginning.
If the mere thought of packing up your kid(s) has you speed dialing delivery, you can stop reading right now. New motherhood looks and feels different for every mom and babe — if you would rather stay in and avoid the schlep, by all means, girlfriend, do you. But if you want to get out and about, and are feeling unsure how, or where — or if you've ventured out but would like some helpful tips or tricks — this post is for you.
Remember the part where I said I was pretty green at this game? Well, I’ve called in reinforcements: A collective hive-mind of mothers who have not only hid in the bistro bathroom with the screaming baby, but have also been in the back (or front) of the house, triaging kid-customer situations with glasses of water for parched nursing mamas, and mac & cheese on the fly. Here’s some sage advice from Boston restaurant industry moms on the best practices for bringing babies and small children out on the town.
Deena Jalal, co-owner, FoMu
"We love to go out to eat. My first word of advice would be to start them young. We didn't hesitate to bring our babies to restaurants, and they grew up being comfortable going out to eat. That makes it a lot easier. It also helps them develop quite a mature palate! No kiddie food in our house!"
"I would also say to look out for highchairs, even in nicer restaurants. You would be surprised who caters to families, and that way you can always go out for a nicer neal every once in a while."
Emily Debonis, owner Tahaza Hummus Kitchen
"Although going out to eat isn’t always easy or relaxing, embrace the chaos and come prepared! On any given day my kids will decide they hate the very foods they proclaimed the day before to be their absolute favorite. Bring healthy snacks as a back-up, and plenty of art supplies, small toys, and books, so you can enjoy that second glass of wine.”
Jen Fields, general manager, Alden & Harlow
"We generally do most of our dining out during the day with Cooper. We wait until he has just woken up from his morning nap and then head out to restaurants that are open throughout the day that we like. A well rested baby will generally be content to enjoy a pretty leisurely lunch... as long as you're sharing your food with them!
Another trick we've learned is not bringing his stroller into restaurants — we just carry Cooper in and plop him in a high chair. It allows us to go to small places (Coppa, Strips T's, Chinatown) without having to maneuver as much and makes the staff's life easier.
Our best trick though is keeping him entertained by letting him try everything we're eating — even if it seems like something he might not like. He's tried kimchi, spinach with bonito flakes, and all sorts of non-traditional baby foods. He likes getting to share what we're eating with us, and hopefully, it'll help him to be a more adventurous eater as he grows up."
Rachel Klein, owner of the soon-to-open RFK Kitchen
"Have the waiter remove everything from the table that's not necessary. Babies and little kids love to grab everything. Mom can have a better experience if she isn't constantly taking things away from the baby."
"Eat somewhere that has quick service. Children become impatient if they have to wait for their food."
Hannah Huke, marketing director, The Briar Group
"Get them out early, get them out often — don't be afraid to take a new baby to new places. This will get them used to loud noises, crowds and being out. From the beginning I tried to take Harper out as much as possible — on the train, parks, restaurants, rowdy bars for Sunday football like The Harp, big events like The Chili Cup, Bombshells Against Breast Cancer"
"Picky eaters are made, not born — once the majority of allergies were ruled out, we started feeding our daughter right off of our plates. A variety of new and unusual foods. She's not only more interested in what we're eating, she's enthusiastic to eat what we're eating, too — this makes for a more enjoyable and stress-free dining experience".
"Chill out — I really believe babies and small kids pick up on what you're feeling and your emotions. If you keep a chill environment at home and when you're out, they're more likely to feel and pick up on that as well. A glass of wine for mom helps with this too."
"Choose wisely — there are so many kid friendly places in Boston, believe it or not! City Table at the Lenox Hotel has stuffed animals especially for kids. Gather at District Hall has dry erase markers so the kids can write on the whiteboard walls in the building."
"My advice is to go early before the kids are in melt-down mode and before the restaurant is busy. I like to be the first table sat if it's just me and the kids. I usually order as soon as I'm seated and bring things to distract the kids (crackers, quiet toys like books). And I always have a glass of wine."
I’ll say it again — I’m no expert, but here are my top three tips for a successful time out with your baby. I’ll leave the advice on toddlers and beyond to those who know what the heck they're talking about.
1. Go early. This is echoed by every mom I hear. I’ve worked in restaurants, and believe me, no one wants to make room for your jogging stroller or coo at your cranky kid when they're being flat-sat. But if you head out to your favorite restaurant as soon as the doors open, you’ll likely find cheery, patient servers, as well as other parents — comrades-in-arms — giving you a friendly nod as they eat one-handed with a baby on their knee. You get to go out and feel like a human, the restaurant gets butts-in-seats off hours, and your little one is tucked in at a reasonable bedtime. Everyone wins.
2. Get the right gear. If you can walk into a restaurant knowing you've set yourself up for success you are guaranteed to have a much more enjoyable time. With babies, S%*! literally happens. Frequently.
First, how are you going to hold the babe? If it’s a sprawling, family-friendly restaurant, by all means, roll in with your full-sized stroller packed with a bumbo seat and bottle warmer. If it’s a little slip of a craft cocktail bar, you’ll be better off wearing the little one in some kind of carrier. Just stash a few diapers, wipes, and a travel changing pad in your purse.
Secondly, have a food source ready to pop in the sweet, screaming mouth of your child should they launch into hanger cries. Whether that’s a bottle or breast, have it good-to-go. For me, that means always carrying a nursing cover in my bag. I’m kind of obsessed with bebe au lait, and no, they definitely aren’t paying me to say that.
3. Breweries are surprisingly baby-friendly. Casual and used to seeing spills, most surfaces here can basically be hosed down. Loud enough to cover any low-level fussing, and big enough to stretch out with a stroller, a local brewery is a lovely place to spend a Saturday afternoon. Not to mention that old wives' tale about beer helping with milk supply.
Hope that helps! We'd love to hear your best advice for getting out with kiddos in the comment section.
Happy Mother's Day to all my fellow moms out there!