Dining out with kids—yours, someone else’s, or any combination thereof—can strike fear into the hearts of any parent. How should I dress them? Sophia won’t eat meat! What if they have an accident? What if they scream? Cry? Make people stare?! Ugh, I could stress myself just thinking about it . . .
I dine out with my daughter—A LOT. What started as an experiment turned into a project and quickly turned into one of my favorite pastimes. Dining out for us is not always smooth sailing. (Any parent knows there’s no guarantee of that, right?!) I purposefully take her to places that aren’t “family friendly”—meaning no mega-chains, places with balloons, or fun characters for us. We explore popular, fresh, local Nashville spots. These are mostly “adult” places, and manners are not optional—they are required to an extent.
Now, before your mind runs off, let me fill you in a bit about us:
- I am a married mother of one neat kiddo.
- We eat out (roughly) once a week. Sometimes, we invite friends to spice things up/create more challenges.
My husband doesn’t join us for these outings—he’s more into eating as a necessity rather than dining for the experience.
- I’m an HR Director for a company in Nashville.
Spoiler: Rules, organization, and training are kind of my jam.
- I have worked in food service and also in Recruiting at a culinary school.
I have a soft spot for servers, hostesses, and the back of the house—we can’t forget them!
I want to share a couple of things I’ve learned during my experiences, as I think they could be useful to other parents. So, distract the anklebiters (pressing play on Frozen for the 4,957th might work!), and grab yourself a fresh cup of coffee—here we go!
PLAN, PLAN, PLAN
Typically, we visit in earlier breakfast or dinner hours—thus avoiding heightened chances of nap-needing or crankiness. Lunches require a bit more finesse but can be managed by shifting a nap a bit early or late. Tell the kids what they are doing, explain it’s a big deal, and that best behavior is needed. Also, explain the consequences of not adhering to said best behavior: adults and big kids eat out and behave well—if you don’t act correctly, you won’t get to do it again for a while.
Pro Tip: Bring tiny silverware that fits in kid hands ($6 for a set at Target). This makes all the difference, and their little grabby hands can manipulate the tiny fork much better! Also, the kids feel special when they get their very own special set of utensils.
If you are going to a place that isn’t known for having kids, call ahead. Ask them about the high chair/booster seat situation, and tell them you are bringing X number of children. Personally, I have a 1:2 max adult-to-kid ratio. I refuse to be grossly outnumbered.
This also helps with the menu—if you have picky eaters, food allergies, or children with sensory sensitivities. They can help with seating and selecting dishes; and, most of the time, they are excited to do so. Please don’t show up to a $20/plate restaurant and be pissed that there are no chicken fingers, hot dogs, or orange soda available. (Hint, hint—it probably wont’ be.) Check ahead and brings snacks if necessary, or use it as a chance to try new and different things: brussels with pork belly, fried manchego cheese with blackberry jam, red velvet pie, buffalo, quail, porcinis, and exotic fruits—just to name a few dishes my little tried and LOOOOOVED!
TREATMENT OF WAITSTAFF
This is not only important, it’s a reflection on your personal character as a human being. Never treat waitstaff poorly or behave as though you think you’re better than them. This only makes you look like a jerk, and it’s no example to set for your kids. Really.
As an HR Professional, I love hiring former/current food service workers. They are hard workers, dedicated, calm under pressure, thankful to have steady daytime hours, and they can typically remember an impressive number of things at once. Have you ever waited on six tables at once? Could be awesome, could be Hell on Earth, sister. Show some respect.
Behavior expectations fall under this as well. That server is probably sweating it if your kid is running laps around the table, smacking other people’s purses, and screaming a la Stillwell Angel (points if you get the reference!). You’re annoying other diners, disrupting the ambiance, and likely subconsciously lowering tips from the tables around you. Patrons do NOT think it’s cute or endearing. I also heard a tale of a woman changing a kid’s poop-loaded diaper at Whiskey Kitchen, then LEAVING IT BEHIND IN THE BOOTH. They had to spray the booth down with bleach. NOT.OK. Control your offspring (within reason), and save the sanity of your poor server.
See above for the correct frame of mind. Acceptable tipping: 15% minimum, 20% for good service, more if it was great. My daughter and I like to surprise waitstaff around the holidays with big tips to brighten their holidays. If you cannot tip? Please, just stay at home. Dining out is a luxury, not a right, and it needs to be respected.
When the kiddo is with me, interaction and innovation go a long way with me—set sharp/hot things away from her, caution me about allergies, and give her a high-five, and I’ll pay the 25% “Alice Tax”—because we’re grateful. Also, I know it’s likely you’ll be picking up rice from the floor . . .
It’s a thing, and has been since . . . well . . . humans. Boobies feed babies as a primary function, and if you are sexualizing them and scowling—SHAME ON YOU. I’ll go ahead and refute your arguments to save you from typing an angry email:
- Some babies don’t eat with a cover—what if someone threw a tablecloth over your head while you ate your steak tartare?
- Moms shouldn’t have to relocate to feed—typically, it is done discreetly and without upheaval. You have a problem? Go eat your meal in your car.
- If you are staring, you’re the pervert. Why are you so interested in seeing a complete stranger’s breasts? Get a hold of yourself, then take a walk down Broadway – you’ll see all the cleavage you can handle, my friend.
- For the record, I’m not a particularly “crunchy” or “granola” mother. I’m just a mom that supports other moms and their choice to feed their children. (I’ve even congratulated women for doing this in restaurants, and paid the bill for one I saw dining solo with a baby. We should encourage each other more—though it seems silly to congratulate someone for doing something so natural. Unfortch, it’s still needed in this day and age.)
HAVE FUN WITH IT
Look, stuff is going to happen. It can be stressful, and most of us have given quiet, very serious direction between gritted teeth—we’re talking about children here, not debutantes. (Though, TBH, I’ve seen debutantes behave far worse!) Mine is finishing up potty-training right now, and it has proven to be an interesting, often hilarious endeavor. My daughter leaves the restroom high-fiving customers and exclaiming “I PEEEEEEED!!! I PEEEEEEED!!!” which elicits an equal number of return high-fives and disdainful stares.
I hope this has been helpful reading. We love exploring all the adventures and cuisine Nashville has to offer! I look forward to hearing and having more funny stories. The kids keep us young, right? I don’t know about you, but I can use all the help I can get to with that!
A native Nashvillian with cravings for both food and travel, Hayley spends her days developing people, writing ideas on paper, and teaching her daughter to conquer the world – one meal at a time. Check out her real talk, and Alice’s dining shenanigans at Baby Eats Nashville.