We love restaurants, plain and simple. We live in a city where not only can you get every kind of food under the sun, but in many cases you can get it for cheaper than fast food prices. I always giggle at the idea of people in this city eating at chain restaurants like Boston Pizza or (God forbid) McDonald's when they could be eating somewhere more authentic, healthy, and delicious- all for a better price. While much of our pre-baby relationship was spent enjoying the restaurants in our area, we waited about 2.5 months after Aias was born before bringing him into a restaurant. It honestly it didn't feel like it had been that long since those days and nights are all just a big clump of sleeplessness in our memories, but I digress. It wasn't that we were worried about germs or even that we were too tired, it was mostly that we didn't want to go into one of our favorite restaurants, have our child get upset, for us to have to leave in a hurry and be too embarrassed to ever go back.
The first restaurant we went to with Aias was a sushi restaurant called Toyo that used to be right at the base of the Cambie bridge. We chose this place because we liked the food, but it wasn't a place we went to regularly. If Aias got upset and we had to leave quickly and felt embarrassed for any reason, we would have had no problem not returning for a few months. This was, of course, back before we were mostly impervious to the public shame our child sometimes likes to inflict on us. His first restaurant experience was great; he slept. Of course, the whole time he slept we were on edge, worried he would wake up and scream or that I wouldn't be able to get my boob out in time. Every time his eyelashes or mouth moved we held our breath. When it became apparent he was going to remain asleep, we breathed a sigh of relief. We enjoyed our meal and then got the heck out of there.
Ever since then, there have only been two occasions where we've actually had to leave a restaurant because of Aias being upset or inconsolable; once was when he was about 4 months old when we attempted to eat at Sushiyama on Kingsway, and the other was just a few days ago at the Vancouver Vietnamese Restaurant. I'll do an entry soon on that specific experience, but first I want to talk about our rules for restaurant-ing with babies and toddlers. I'm not sure if these rules are for everyone, but they are our agreed upon laws of the land for us.
Rule Number 1: If there are high chairs, it's fair game.
As far as we are concerned, if a restaurant has at least one high chair, it's totally cool for us to bring our baby or toddler there. The same goes for booster seats. Sometimes we are surprised at some of the places where this applies, but like we said- fair game!
Rule Number 2: Tip, and don't be shy about it.
I don't care if the waitstaff are getting $20 an hour to work there, you need to tip. I take tipping very seriously as I spent many years working for a pizza place and I know that people bringing you your food need your tips as part of their expected income (check out tipthepizzaguy.com). If you are bringing your child to a restaurant and you can afford to eat at a restaurant, TIP. Waitstaff often coo and do extra special things to keep your kid happy so don't forget to account for that. If your kid is loud, cries, or makes a mess, tip even more.
Rule Number 3: If your kid makes excessive mess, clean it up yourself.
Aias throws food on the floor, plain and simple. It's just what he does. While the waitstaff are paid to bring you your food and there are people there to clean up after you leave, you aren't there to make more work for them. If Aias spills something, we wipe it up with a napkin. If it's out of control, we ask for a cloth or I pull one out of my bag. If something gets thrown on the floor, we pick it up. We've been criticized by a friend about this actually, because according to the friend "they are paid to do it, don't do it yourself." They are paid to serve our food and pick up a mess that is to be expected, not babysit our kid. If you feel it would be inappropriate to do your own cleaning due to the ambiance of the restaurant, TIP MORE! Maybe let them know you are sorry about it as well.
Rule Number 4: Show up prepared.
Here are some of the things we make sure to have on hand before we go into a restaurant: our Summer Infant Tiny Diner place mat, a bib, a sippy cup or something we can put water into, and a dry snack. Huh? A snack? In a restaurant? We always bring something that we can put on the place mat before the food comes, just because we know there is possibly going to be a wait for the food and babies aren't always willing to wait. We've never had a restaurant tell us we couldn't give him the outside food.
Rule Number 5: Recognize the warning signs that a restaurant may not be a good idea.
Aias can almost always behave himself in a restaurant, but there are certain indicators in his personality that suggest he will not be able to handle it. We recognize these. If he is fussy, teething, or feeling antsy, it's a no go. If you can learn to recognize these in your child you will be very grateful.
Rule Number 6: Be prepared to walk away.
Sometimes you don't always recognize the warning signs and your baby or toddler creates a scene in the restaurant. First try to have one parent go outside or into the washroom with them to calm them down; if the scene gets out of control, ask to take your food to go. We've had to do this; it sucks. It especially sucks at all you can eat sushi because then you can't actually eat all you can eat (haha), but sometimes it's just not fair to your child. I tend to worry less about the people at the restaurant because of rule #1, but it can be too much for everyone.
Rule Number 7: Enjoy yourself and DON'T WORRY!
Eating out with babies and toddlers doesn't need to be stressful. As long as you follow the rules, it can actually be kind of fun! Don't worry if your baby or toddler is chatty or laughs or makes a little bit of noise; it's just how they communicate. The reality is, other people in the restaurant probably won't even notice or be bothered by these noises. If people want to eat in silence, they can go to restaurants that don't fall under the category of rule #1.
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