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Teaching Baby Fine Dining


beezy
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Hi all -

I've been out of the restaurant loop for about 18 months, between bed rest and baby and recession, so I'm not sure what's up.

I have a nine month old girl, who sits up, can feed herself finger food and with a spoon (moderately tidy) and is blessedly not a fussy eater. We'd like to get her used to eating out, but also don't want to foist our pain on other diners. Since I wouldn't eat at Chili's, Applebees, etc, she won't either.

So far, Baby ReverbBeezy has the following rules

- come in early for dinner or other meals

- immediate removal upon loud behavior

- bring small toys etc for amusement

- bring some food if what's available isn't to her liking

- ask for a larger space than needed, make a reservation noting child, and asking to be seated away from most of the crowd, even if it means taking a less prime seat

- tip well

-emphasize indoor voice (yes, babies do know what that means)

- do not come in during possible meltdown times (naptime, over crowding, etc)

We've been pretty successful with the Cafe Luna franchise (seriously fabulous job of serving both families and the bright young things), Liberty Tavern mafia, Harry' Tap Room and Dino. However, our daughter needs to expand her tastes. Clearly, we're not taking her to Vidalia, DC Coast or other high powered restaurants, but what are some suggestions where she can be introduced to good food, learn to act right in public, and have chefs who are happy to help out (serving smaller portions, chopping up stuff, etc)? What have other folks learned about taking out their kids? Chef and owners, what do you think about having young kids in your restaurant?

I feel a bit stuck - I know that not everyone wants a side of baby with their dinner (although the meat is terribly tender). On the other hand, if we don't expose her early and often to the environments where we expect good behavior, she won't know what's expected. Plus, geez, we'd like to have a nice time without shelling out for a babysitter.

Thanks, all!

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Neighborhood ethnic restaurants were our lifeblood when the kids were little.

Asian, Latino, Ethiopian, didn't matter. So many of these cultures are child-focused, that it's completely second nature to them to cater to families.

Pick a few you like, and become regulars. Our local chinese joint, when we came in, whisked the baby away, and we barely saw him before it was time to go, because they were passing him from staff member to staff member, always laughing. And the kid got quite a food education at the same time.

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I agree that ethnic spots are the way to go. It's a shame that today's yuppie parents are so expansive in their palates -- not long ago, little Anglo kids were enough of a rarity in Ethiopian and other more "exotic" ethnic restaurants that bringing a couple of them in guaranteed special attention and excellent service. We used to rent our out.

I also think that putting a nine-month old in training to be a veteran diner because "if we don't expose her early and often to the environments where we expect good behavior, she won't know what's expected" sounds like a plot line from a yuppie situation comedy. You know, like the one where dad puts a football in the newborn's crib or Tiger Mother gets the baby playing the violin before she starts teething. And I trust that "she needs to expand her tastes" was said facetiously. What nine-month-olds need to learn to do most is not to puke or throw things.

Every kid is different, of course, but, having been there a couple of times myself I'd suggest that:

Kids learn to eat out mostly by eating at home.

Pushing a kid to learn table manners before their internal clock is ready is as frustrating as trying to make them poop, read, play third base, or engage in abstract reasoning before they're ready.

Perfectly personable nine-month-olds can become wildly unreasonable eighteen-month-olds as they get more interested in testing and expanding their motor and communications skills. Similarly, omnivorous babies can become very picky toddlers. You may luck out, but be aware that straight-line progress towards perfect restaurant manners is more the exception than the rule.

And, finally, while I sympathize with the desire to get out without the expense of a babysitter, the thought of turning every restaurant meal into an etiquette lesson with a semi-sentient being sounds exhausting.

I'd stick with ethnic and informal dining and not worry too much about molding the next Don Rockwell until she's old enough to read the menu.

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Hi all -

I've been out of the restaurant loop for about 18 months, between bed rest and baby and recession, so I'm not sure what's up.

I have a nine month old girl, who sits up, can feed herself finger food and with a spoon (moderately tidy) and is blessedly not a fussy eater. We'd like to get her used to eating out, but also don't want to foist our pain on other diners. Since I wouldn't eat at Chili's, Applebees, etc, she won't either.

So far, Baby ReverbBeezy has the following rules

- come in early for dinner or other meals

- immediate removal upon loud behavior

- bring small toys etc for amusement

- bring some food if what's available isn't to her liking

- ask for a larger space than needed, make a reservation noting child, and asking to be seated away from most of the crowd, even if it means taking a less prime seat

- tip well

-emphasize indoor voice (yes, babies do know what that means)

- do not come in during possible meltdown times (naptime, over crowding, etc)

We've been pretty successful with the Cafe Luna franchise (seriously fabulous job of serving both families and the bright young things), Liberty Tavern mafia, Harry' Tap Room and Dino. However, our daughter needs to expand her tastes. Clearly, we're not taking her to Vidalia, DC Coast or other high powered restaurants, but what are some suggestions where she can be introduced to good food, learn to act right in public, and have chefs who are happy to help out (serving smaller portions, chopping up stuff, etc)? What have other folks learned about taking out their kids? Chef and owners, what do you think about having young kids in your restaurant?

I feel a bit stuck - I know that not everyone wants a side of baby with their dinner (although the meat is terribly tender). On the other hand, if we don't expose her early and often to the environments where we expect good behavior, she won't know what's expected. Plus, geez, we'd like to have a nice time without shelling out for a babysitter.

Thanks, all!

You needn't stick with only "ethnic" restaurants at all. Your bullet points (and your post) show that you are obviously a very conscientious (sp?) parent and are well aware of possible miscues during your meal. Any restaurant would love to have you for dinner!

When my daughter was younger (she's five now and a bit better behaved), my wife and I took her everywhere we could for dinner. Sure...a few times, we had to leave early and get our food wrapped up because of her behavior. No big deal at all...the restaurant still gets the sale and we still get our meal. As long as you're one of the early seatings (when the dining room is near-empty anyway) then go for it!

FWIW, at Eventide, we had a young couple who regularly brought in a newspaper with them for brunch with their baby. They would unfold the paper and spread out a few sheets on the floor under their baby's high chair before the food was delivered. After the meal, they would roll up the paper ( with any spilled food inside), ask one of my servers to throw it away and drop a 22-25% gratuity. Best...people...ever.

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beezy,

Great thread! I try to encourage parents to take out their little ones all the time, after talking to people here and based on the little man's behavior at places. I have taken him, since 18months or 2 to the following places:

*Evening Star Cafe (great kids menu)

*Grapeseed

*Hook

*Del Merei (when it was there)

*Pupatella

*American Flatbread

*Rustico & Buzz (Buzz in Old Town has a great little play area for kids)

*Locolat (Ada is great with little man)

*Tallula

*Dino or Liberty Tavern or Northside Social (but you've mentioned that)

*Artisan Confections (only to buy chocolates, but teaching him restraint on touching things and samples)

*Cheesecake Factory

*Southside 815

*Jackson 20

*BGR joint

*Hell Burger

*Earl's Sandwich

*Ray's the Steaks

*Silver Diner and the likes

*Meaza Ethiopian

*Guajillo

*Thai and Pho/Vietnamese restaurants

*Sushi

*Dim sum and other Chinese places

I think you are spot on with most items on your list and keep at it! I have not asked for a specific location in the past and feel that children should not be an exception to places, however. I think this is where Waitman and I disagree, as repetition and example can shape the child's dining behavior and table manners -- little man is a product of that training from early on (or maybe I am one of those Tiger Moms). Yes, it does mean taking/moving the knife away and some silverware out of reach so that it doesn't become toys, but don't cater to the child helps.

For the most part, little man does pretty well now at 4. I was pretty proud of him last time at Pupatella where he patiently waited 50mins for a pie. It was worth it and he thought so too.

I really like BLB's story about how her little guy asks to go to Palena, if iirc.

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So far, Baby ReverbBeezy has the following rules

- come in early for dinner or other meals

- immediate removal upon loud behavior

- bring small toys etc for amusement

- bring some food if what's available isn't to her liking

- ask for a larger space than needed, make a reservation noting child, and asking to be seated away from most of the crowd, even if it means taking a less prime seat

- tip well

-emphasize indoor voice (yes, babies do know what that means)

- do not come in during possible meltdown times (naptime, over crowding, etc)

We've been pretty successful with the Cafe Luna franchise (seriously fabulous job of serving both families and the bright young things), Liberty Tavern mafia, Harry' Tap Room and Dino. However, our daughter needs to expand her tastes. Clearly, we're not taking her to Vidalia, .

Our baby is 9.5 months old. She's been just about everywhere with us other than Komi and Uncle Liu's Hot Pot. On the other hand, she's never had any restaurant food and we've only left the restaurant early a couple of times (once was Esca in NYC and another was at a tapas restaurant in Virginia Beach). She's fed beforehand, and she gets puffs while we eat at the restaurant. She sucks on utencils and anything else that's safe to suck on within reach. We usually spend no more than 1 hr in the restaurant and we almost always get reservations at 5:30. I guess we're fortunate that she's not a screamer as I have no idea whether she knows the difference between loud vs. quiet. BTW, we don't give her restaurant food because we don't know what's in the food and don't know whether she's going to have an allergic reaction (okay, she's had some bread at restaurants, maybe some mashed veggies). Yes I would like her to eat everything but I don't see any need to rush things.

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For us there were (and are) two important components.

1) We wanted BLBaby (now BLPreschooler and a big, fancy pants, nearly 4 year old...) to understand where food comes from. He knows all the vendors at the farmers markets around town and has relationships with them.

2) We wanted dining out to be a regular and routine part of his life.

So we were at RTC for lunch when he was 2 weeks old. As he got older, we continued to take him places. We had food allergy issues so we often brought food with us in the early days. Mostly bananas in the early days. I worked to make sure I had relationships with kitchens and FOH folks that I could get clear answers on what was in the food. As he got older and outgrew the egg allergy and was cleared to try nuts, we expanded what we let him try. When something has been a hit, we reinforce talking about it at home and by the next visit he will almost always order for himself. We talk about inside voices, we go for walks if we have to (though I'm trying to cut down on this as it disrupts the meal), we bring a few books and the magna-doodle. We enforce the same standard of behavior at California Pizza Kitchen that we do at Dino. And for the most part we order him real food rather than food of the kids menu. So at Bonefish Grill (my in-laws love the place), he gets mussels and I take them out of the shell for him. He'll eat 3/4 of an appetizer portion, plus a 1/4 of my salad and whatever else he mooches of Mr. BLB's plate and he's had a good meal. (He isn't a cheap date...)

Now he routinely asks when we can go to Palena again or Dino. We told him at Ray's Hell and he's been after us to go there and he loved Againn for some reason.

I wouldn't take him to Komi because there are too many courses. I wouldn't take him to Citronelle. Or the back room at Palena. Is there anyplace else I wouldn't take him? I'm sure there are but I can't think of them right now. In fact we often run in to issues with family who automatically want to go to lower quality places because we are going out with kids and explaining that we aren't willing to let him eat poor quality food just because he's a small child and we don't want to eat it ourselves. (But that is a battle for another day!!!)

I think the other thing to remember is that this ebbs and flows. What was awful with a four month old was great with a seven month old who would spend an hour feeding himself a banana. Now our challenge is the slow, painful end of afternoon naps. If he doesn't nap, he's ready for bed at 6:30 these days. We're doing a lot of lunches and brunches and 4:30 dinners. In another year, the end of the nap will be normal and going to dinner at 5:30 or 6:00 will be feasible again.

Relax and go places you enjoy. Tip well.

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Thank you for being so conscientious. It sounds like you already do all the right things to prepare for eating out and being good customers.

As a diner, I really don't mind being around kids. I only have issues if they are noisy or if the parents do nothing to control them. Obviously, neither of those apply to you. As a cook, I am happy to accommodate reasonable requests. I even do fun or unexpected things as long as they are nice to our servers and tip well.

Baby Beezy is lucky to have good guidance to be a fine little diner. I wish more parents were like you.

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We saw a couple brought this chair to a restaurant in Minneapolis. Two of the issues we found at restaurants are that their highchairs are not very sanitary and the seat-belts are often broken. So we bought the chair and plan on taking it to restaurants with us.

ETA: As you can see, we use this at home too, it takes up less space than a high chair.

post-4391-0-99133600-1295961659_thumb.jp

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You already know the parental restaurant rules that will make you welcome regulars anywhere you go with your youngster. We followed pretty much the same rules with ours. As our daughter got a bit older, we got into the habit of reminding her of the rules before we went into an establishment. The most important one for her to understand is that she needs to stay seated at the table, even if other children are running around. It's a huge safety issue, and must be an absolute nightmare for servers.

We hate the idea of "family restaurants" full of ill-behaved children, but sometimes you'll need to compromise because your friends haven't acclimated their own kids to restaurants. For those situations, we found dim sum to be the most reliable meal out. There is almost no down time between entering the restaurant and the arrival of the food, the carts provide constant amusement, and you end up with a three year-old who can order dim sum with confidence from passing carts. The fresh tofu in sweet ginger sauce is likely to be an early hit. Be careful with noodle dishes and cut the noodles into smaller pieces to avoid a choking hazard.

My husband also hit upon a dining strategy for his frequent lunchtime pho expeditions with our daughter to our neighborhood Vietnamese place. He would get them to fill a sippy cup half full with straight pho broth, then top it off with ice. Our daughter also enjoyed the lightly pickled daikon and carrot shreds.

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