The traditional, adults-only New Year’s Eve celebration is not for me this year.
Instead, my family is consumed with planning an epic outing that includes a 7-month-old and 2 1/2 –year-old. Kid-friendly activities will abound, but we’ll have to pause amid all the fun for meals, not all of which can be plucked from a cooler or drive-thru window.
Recent, small victories give me hope that restaurant forays can once again resume. My older son comported himself commendably well last week at Red Lobster, where he gobbled macaroni and cheese between intermittent trips to the live lobster tank. But that was sans his younger brother, and restaurants with aquariums are fairly few and far between.
My husband and I have come up with a restaurant game plan over the past couple of years. Among the things we’ve learned is that there are always helpful hints if not genius strategies to be gleaned from all those other parents out there.
Here are some tips that I spied over the summer in the Washington Post. Yes, some we already know. Others are likely to become part of our restaurant routine in short order.
Pack to distract. Fill diaper bags with favorite books, toys and games. Keep your phone charged because your little one might need a quick video fix to prevent a meltdown.
Gear up. Don’t expect restaurants to have baby-friendly equipment on hand. Some don’t even furnish high chairs. So pack a sippy cup, plate, flatware, washcloth or wipes, the all-important catchall bib and a portable changing mat.
Start small. Begin by teaching manners and mealtime expectations around the dinner table at home. Then try dining at family-friendly restaurants before graduating to more formal settings.
Pick partners wisely. A successful dinner with other families often hinges on whether the children get along. Little BFFs can make meals fun for everyone while kids who don’t see eye to eye can derail meals and override even the most dedicated parents.
Fast food. Ask the staff to bring out the children’s dishes as soon they are ready — instead of pacing them to coincide with the adults’ course — as tiny diners don’t like to wait.
Be prepared to bail. If your child is annoying other diners, be ready to pull the ripcord. Ask for your meal to be boxed up, tip generously (good advice even if your child does behave, to compensate for the extra attention your table requires) and leave swiftly. Consider bringing cash to avoid waiting for a credit card to be processed. Alternately, give your server your credit card at the beginning of the meal to speed up the bill-paying process.
Practice makes perfect. Don’t give up if you have a bad experience. Watching your little one cause a major mess in public may be humbling, but it happens. Figure out what went wrong and how you might be able to fix it, then try again.