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You & Jr CAN Dine Out

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By Katie Herrick Bugbee, Senior Managing Editor and Global Parenting Expert at Care.com

Chef Grant Achatz from one of Chicago’s finest restaurants, Alinea, had a recent run-in with an 8-month-old dinner guest. The result was not favorable.

Achatz (@Gachatz) tweeted: “Tbl brings 8mo.Old. It cries. Diners mad. Tell ppl no kids? Subject diners 2crying? Ppl take infants 2 plays? Concerts? Hate saying no, but..”

Sounds like the child did not appreciate 3-Michelin starred restaurant Alinea’s fine cuisine. And the feeling was mutual.

First things first, to understand how Alinea works, you have to buy tickets as part of your reservation. This means, you are already “forking” over $210-$265 per person, depending on the night. If something comes up (say, your babysitter cancels), you are responsible for selling your tickets online. No refunds otherwise.

I’m assuming this couple did not set out to dine at one of the city’s finest restaurant with their child. However, if they did, they certainly caused a stir. Alinea might ban kids from here on out. As a fellow parent who has had people move their seats away from my family of four (We were at a chain restaurant. They should get over themselves!), I can understand the need to want to dine out when you have kids. And dine nicely. However, you still have to respect other diners, especially if they’ve paid more than $200 each to be there. Consider these suggestions before your next meal out on the town:

Choose the right restaurant: You don’t have to do chains, but family-friendly restaurants are family friendly for a reason.They can still have local eatery charm, but they cater to kids with things like special menus, cups with covers to prevent spills and activity books with crayons.  

Hint: If a place doesn’t offer high chairs, your child isn’t 100 percent welcome! So if you really want a more upscale place, go early or sit in the bar area, which is a little more boisterous and can drown out squeals or whines.

Line up some backup sitters: We get it. The sitter canceled, and you’ve had these reservations for weeks. Life happens! Backup care services are a great option for these instances. You call with your last-minute situation, and they have a professional, vetted nanny at your door ready to babysit. But I also recommend that you have a list of sitters you like — a mix between college kids, neighborhood teens and nannies around the area — on hand so when an emergency hits, you can send out a mass email or text for help in a bind.  

Bring activities: No matter if you’re going to the neighborhood pub or the fancy bistro, bring a bag of toys, books, activity books and food to keep your child engaged — and quiet. You can alsoplay interactive games, such as Peek-a-boo, I-Spy, Telephone or Guess the Animal, or create stories. Certain activities can keep kids focused for at least one course.

Take a walk: If your little one is fidgety or fussy — and it’s not the right time or place — excuse yourself from the table and find a quiet area to give your child a chance to calm down. Sometimes it’s the bar area, walking around the restaurant or going for a walk outside.  

Pick certain times: Try eating at an off-hour. As parents, it can be nice to have had a nice dinner by the time your child goes to bed at 7 p.m. Then, you’re home and can connect on the couch instead of in the kitchen. Early-bird dining definitely has some advantages. If you are craving a meal at a nice place, go at 5 p.m. You’ll get a table, and you can feel more comfortable with a cranky kid.

Ask the waiter for help: When you first sit down, talk to your waiter. If the place is fancy, tell him you’re aware that you are dining in danger. So ask him to send over a basket of bread or a bunch of crackers to hold the kiddos over until their food comes. Then order the kids’ meals as soon as you sit down. No need to be frantic, just practical. Also, be sure to tip generously.

Worst case scenario: Take turns eating: Sometimes a kid just won’t settle down, and you and your dinner companion will have to eat in shifts. One of you walks with the baby while the other eats her meal. No, this is not what you had in mind for your date night. But if your child is super disruptive, you can sense the frustration from others or you’re too anxious about the noise, take turns eating and get dessert to go.  

Make it a teaching opportunity: It’s very possible that you can use this moment to start teaching table manners to your child. A woman I work with takes her 3 year old to very nice restaurants because she has been dining out with him since he was 2 weeks old. Sure, she says he’s had bad moments. But now, he’s more likely to sit quietly and join the family conversation (He doesn’t play until he’s eaten all his food!). Wow. Maybe we should all be using these nice restaurants as classrooms!

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