Getting Out of the Kitchen

I believe rather strongly in taking children to restaurants.  And I’m not talking about McDonalds.  Real restaurants, with waitstaff and other patrons paying $10 or more for an entree.

I remember when I was little and we would go to Georgio’s on Clement @ 3rd Ave.  My sister and I would each get a 7up (and only one–no refills) and the family would share antipasti and calzone.  It didn’t have to be fancy; it’s the experience of dining out that counts.

Having a baby sometimes feels like having a lobotomy, but let’s be honest, you’re still the same person and you still enjoy–and maybe even yearn for–the same things you always did.  And my husband and I are normal young people who, up until the very moment our child was born and our lives changed COMPLETELY, frequented restaurants and bars two to three times a week.   So for one thing, we enjoy being out in the city with other people.  And for another thing, when you have a baby, and maybe you both also work or at least one of you does, it’s pretty nice to have someone else do the cooking once a while.  So, we dedicate one weekend evening a week to taking Babyman out for dinner.

Babyman has learned that this little excursion means one thing: FRENCH FRIES.  Yup, all my healthy-cooking ideals go out the window on these nights.  My husband and I enjoy a beer or a glass of wine, all three of us nibble on fries, we people-watch and try to keep Babyman from eating the crayons…and we are done by 6:30 to get home for bath and bedtime.

For me, eating out like this serves two main purposes: one, my husband and I get to go out and be part of the (early) action on a Saturday; two, for Babyman, it’s a teachable moment: this is where you sit; this is how you order; you can bring a book or toys if the wait for food is long, but you put them away when dinner is served; you don’t get up from the table; you say please and thank you.  For some reason, with the eyes of “the public” upon you, these rules are more easily enforced in restaurants than at home…but then they translate to home, and that’s good too.

A few tips for low-stress dining with a toddler:

– Set yourself up for success.  If Babyman has missed his nap or been tantrummy around meals over the week, maybe it’s not the best day to test out his restaurant decorum.

– Look for two key items upon arrival: high chairs and children’s menus.  Downtown San Francisco is surprisingly great for kids!  A few of our favorites: Perry’s Embarcadero, Gordon Biersch, Taylor’s Refresher in the Ferry Building on a sunny day (soooo many kids), Rogue Brewery in North Beach (beware slow service), 21st Amendment by the ballpark (brunch and a bloody can’t be beat).

– Bring your own snacks.  Food at restaurants sometimes takes a while.  Or, it needs a few minutes to cool once it’s been served.  Toddlers are not generally known for their patience.

– Time your restaurant visit around one of your kid’s usual mealtimes.  If they’re not hungry, they won’t eat.  If they don’t eat, they’re not occupied.  If they’re not occupied, you aren’t relaxed…and that’s the point!

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