As we walked back, I was thinking about how much having a baby has changed the way I think about restaurants. In the past, I looked at the philosophy behind these decisions, but today I'm thinking about a much more practical question: how do you decide if a restaurant is baby friendly? We've always loved eating out, especially at local places, but having a kid makes the process of choosing a restaurant pretty complicated. For one, space in the city is limited, and the restaurants tend to be smaller. That means there's not a lot of room for maneuvering, say, a stroller into one. And if you go sans stroller, there's not really any space to let a toddler wander that isn't going to be invasive to someone else. Then, if it's your first time trying the restaurant, you run the risk of making the dreaded shameful parent entry.
See, very few restaurants put signs on their doors saying "No Kids Allowed." I mean, it not unheard of, but it's certainly not common. But that doesn't mean there's not an invisible "No Kids Allowed" sign, one that all of the people who go there regularly know exists, and they will stare you down when you break the rules. Plus, this is often a sign that it won't be a very enjoyable eating experience for us, either. It's a lose-lose. We make the staff and other customers upset. We have a bad meal.
|Here is my baby girl when she was a few days old. Not a good dinner guest.|
I'm talking about little hole-in-the-wall cafes. I'm talking about local pizza joints. I'm talking about coffee shops. Places that aren't by their inherent nature child-free, but may have become child-free through their culture. And, again, I'm not complaining. I understand why there would be a coffee shop free of crying babies and food tossed onto the floor, but sometimes it's really hard to figure out which ones they are without going there.
Once I get there, I can usually tell right away. The signs?
- There are no other babies. Not anywhere.
- There are no high chairs in sight, or, there is one, it looks decades old, the straps are broken and it's tucked away and looks like it hasn't moved in a while.
- The tables are so close together that you couldn't fit the one high chair they have anywhere anyway.
- There's no kids menu (not necessarily a sign of a child-free space, but it can help you decide if you're on the fence.)
- The place is quiet. Lots of people are working on laptops alone, and the conversations are in whispers.
But what do you do if you're already in there? You're in the door, you can see a few eye rolls from the seated patrons, but you don't want to be weird and just walk out. If it's a small cafe place, there've been times we've just ordered a coffee to go and kept looking for a more suitable restaurant, but sometimes that's not really feasible.
So, the best thing to do is to try to figure these things out ahead of time. Here are a few ways NOT to do that:
- Ask friends who don't have kids. This is especially true if you're out of town and the friends are making the dining arrangements. Several times I've asked, "Is it kid-friendly" and my childless friends will say, "Oh, yeah. Completely child-friendly." We'll get there and, inevitably, it is not.
- Ask the restaurant directly. If you call and ask if a place is child-friendly, the restaurant is likely to say yes. They may hedge, which can be a sign that it's actually a "no," but I think most places are afraid of making parents mad.
So, how do you figure it out?
- For small, local places, we scout. We'll peer in windows when we're walking and look for high chairs. We look at how much space there is inside, whether people are laughing and talking loudly. These are good signs.
- Another favorite is the takeout run. We'll order takeout from a place we're thinking of going to, and one of us will go pick it up, giving us a chance to scope the place out without being weird. And if it isn't child-friendly? Well, we still got a locally-made meal, even if we have to eat it at home.
- Try it at different times of day. There are a few restaurants we love that are completely child friendly before 5pm, but then the atmosphere changes. Lunch spots are not necessarily dinner spots.
- For out of town places or bigger restaurants, we'll call and ask "Do you have high chairs?" or check the website for a kids menu.
What about you? What seemingly simple decisions have been turned into a matrix of checklists by the presence of babies?