Saturday, July 16, 2011

Should you bring your baby and toddlers to restaurants? 6 tips to help you along

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I hate babies. Well, at least I used to. Be it in a restaurant or on a plane, especially on a plane. The last thing I need is to have a screaming and vomiting baby/toddler on a thirteen hour flight back home. Having a toddler lined up his fleet of trucks along the main aisle and transform the walkway into his playpen is fine, provided that someone wouldn't unwittingly knock onto his trucks or step on his fingers while shuffling through.

But bringing your babies to a restaurant is a totally different thing. Unlike flying, there is an option to leave the baby at home with a babysitter; you can't jolly well ask to have the baby stored in the plane's luggage compartment, can you? I read about how a father smashed a wine bottle on the head of another customer when the latter made a comment about his bawling baby in a local restaurant (I hear you think - shouldn't it be the other way round? Read article). So I thought I'll write about some reasons why parents are lugging their little ones into restaurants and some tips for these parents so that they would not go around smashing bottles into others' skulls.

Why parents bring their babies to restaurants

Now that I am on the other side of the fence (yes, I am now one of those people), I can fully understand where parents are coming from. Parents need some time out. Regardless of how fastidious they are, home usually looks like a war zone with toys strewn around and bits of food lying in hard to reach corners. While most meals consist of scrapes conjured up within a limited amount of time, a proper sit down meal every now and then would be nice.

Ideally, if it is to be a just-like-when-we-were-dating type of meal, the baby should be left with someone at home. However, a babysitter who is contacted through an agency can easily cost £10 per hour. With that taken into consideration, the price of a meal can be bumped up by quite a bit. Not everyone has the luxury of having their parents nearby to take care of their children. That's why the screamer is sitting in the restaurant and not at home.

There are of course some parents who can well afford the babysitter but can't seem to find a suitable one. Or they can't bring themselves to leave their babies with a complete stranger. The latter is more likely so.

Then, there is the school of thought that believes that you should bring toddlers to restaurants so they would learn the how to behave when dining in public. Needless to say, there is a steep learning curve here. But for those who can survive the onslaught of flying spoons, forks and food, the reward is tremendous. For some reason, the French seem to excel in this with little fuss and I have absolutely no idea how they do it.

Some tips if you have to bring your baby/toddler along with you

1) Fit child's timing

With a baby in tow, forget about having meals at fixed times. Breakfast is now loosely defined as the first meal of the day and dinner the last regardless of when they take place. I've seen countless frustrates moments when parents are intend on forcing their babies to fit their routine when it should be the other way round. If you know that your kid's going to act up at around nine every morning, try not to schedule your weekend breakfast then.

2. Go off peak

If possible, go to a restaurant during off peak periods. The are real advantages there. First there'll be less customers in the restaurants thus less chances of irritating someone who might provoke you into rash acts (read bottle smashed on skull article above).

With less customers around, the staff can lavish more attention on your little ones, something you can well afford. You'll be surprised at the antics some well meaning staff can come up with to wrangle a smile off your baby.

Finally, there are some good deals to be had during off-peak periods. That's especially true between lunch and dinner time (3pm - 6pm) if the restaurants are opened at all. For more off-peak deals, check out Toptable's Latest Offers section.

3. Ask for child's portion

Young children especially love to have their own food, not scrapes from your plate. Ask if the restaurant offers children's portion. Most actually do though it is not explicitly listed on their menu. Some like The Ambassador at Exmouth Market has a side menu for kids.

4. Prepare children's food

If you would like your child to follow a strict diet (no chips, low salt etc.), why not prepare your own food instead? Forget the mushy blended mix. Instead, go for something that the child can grasp with her tiny hands. I realised that LO loves holding onto a steamed asparagus and nibble off its top. I know some parents adore Annabel Karmel's New Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner. But it's not that practical if the toddler is to handle her own food. Wife recommends River Cottage Baby & Toddler Cookbook by Nikki Duffy.

5. For breastfeeding mothers

For those with babies who are not into formulas and not yet graduate to solids, Murphy's Law always apply - the baby will always cry for a feed just when food is served. Forget the pacifier, it would just delay the issue and believe me, she will raise a ruckus if she realises that she wouldn't be fed after all.

There's absolutely no need to head to the baby nursing room assuming the restaurant have got one in the first place. If you are feeling a bit awkward, Wife recommends Bebe Au Lait Nursing Cover. "Practical, comfortable and stylish" - her words, not mine. It's a bit costly but believe me, it's worth every penny.

6. If all else fails, engage them

No one likes to be ignored, especially toddlers. Look at it this way, they wouldn't even want to have anything to do with you in a couple of years' time, so enjoy it while it lasts. If they get all fidgety, pull out their favourite toy (you did bring it out, didn't you?). Some restaurants have papers, colour pencils and even stickers for your little ones. The Blue Legume at Islington does this really well; not only they would offer complimentary babycinno with sprinklers and all, they would even pin your kids' drawings up behind the counter. Try beating that.

So the next time you are out dining with your little screamers, spare a thought for your fellow diners who are really just looking to have some quality time, just be a bit more prepared. If all else fails, bring the child out for a short breather. If you are out dining with your date and a baby starts screaming behind you, be kind. We are all in this together, aren't we? Who knows? You might be the flustered parent one day.

Have I missed out anything tips on handling babies/toddlers in restaurants?

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