Smile, leave a big tip and other notes on dining with an infant. –Whitney Pipkin
There are two types of eating-out experiences when you bring a newborn along: the ones in which the baby falls asleep in the car seat on the way to dinner and snoozes soundly through the entire meal, and the ones in which she does not.
Our first half-dozen outings after welcoming a baby girl in September were of the blissful sort. Servers and fellow diners whispered over her peaceful face, “What a good baby!” as she slumbered through unconscionable amounts of noise. My husband and I beamed, gladly taking credit for what we would later realize was mostly out of our control.
We felt so confident about our mobility that, after a long workweek, we decided to bring the weeks-old baby along for happy hour (i.e. cheap, early dinner for new parents) at a hotel restaurant near our house in Alexandria.
Our first mistake was choosing a place too close to home (turns out, a five-minute drive doesn’t do the sleep-induction trick). Our second was choosing a quiet restaurant.
Infants, and mine in particular, prefer their sleep to be accompanied by the noise-making equivalent of Niagara Falls. The benefit of having slightly older children is you can bring noise with you, although I’m not sure the table full of suits next to us would have appreciated that either.
In the early weeks, an awake baby means a hungry baby. That means a breastfeeding mom gets to watch her food grow cold or, in starving desperation, attempt to not drop half of it into her baby’s ear canal while eating.
But, for this particular outing, I’d pumped a bottle, hoping to take advantage of the happy part of happy hour and have a glass of wine. As I dove into the chicken wings, the baby decided she wasn’t as thrilled about the bottle from daddy as I was, and she let us know.
The fusses that seem tolerable, even cute, in the comfort of our home take on an ear-piercing problem in public. With nothing but elevator music to drown them out, the tableful of businessmen (and probably the dishwashers too) shared our pain.
After experiencing the parenting equivalent of a walk of shame, we lived to eat another day and we learned a few lessons.
First, noise is good. Don’t think you’ll get away with keeping baby in the corner. If there are other kids in the restaurant, sit near them. Hopefully they’ll be louder than yours (the same rule applies on airplanes).
Second, learn to smile through the chaos. The situation will be far less awkward for others if you seem unfazed by it.
And lastly, remember that everyone needs a night out and everyone started out as a baby. If all goes to hell, just write that on your receipt and leave a good tip.