Dining Out With Baby
by Akila Sankar McConnell
Nobody wants to be that parent with the screaming baby at a nice restaurant on a Saturday night. But, fast food and Chuck E Cheese are not new parents’ only options. Atlanta’s vibrant restaurant scene – from down-home Southern fare to delicious international flavors to the new food truck craze – can be baby-friendly.
Kim Bigelman, Atlanta mother to 11-month-old Clara, started taking Clara out to eat soon after she was born. “We have always been impressed with Atlanta restaurants’ hospitality to an infant,” she says, especially at St. Angelo’s Pizza in Vinings.
Many other local restaurants also try to appeal to young families. Rich Chey, owner of Doc Chey’s Noodle Houses and Osteria 832 Pizza and Pasta, estimates that about 50 percent of his restaurant patrons are families with children. He explains why being family-friendly is important to him: “My partner and I started our first restaurant when we had young families and realized that there weren’t many family-friendly options in the Virginia Highland neighborhood.”
Chey recommends that, in general, families arrive for dinner early. Eating dinner at 5 or 6 p.m. ensures fewer guests to bother if your baby makes a fuss, faster service, and a more attentive wait staff. Alternatively, if you know that your baby can sleep through noise and usually falls asleep in the car, consider putting baby to sleep in his carseat and bringing baby asleep to the restaurant in the carseat carrier.
Before venturing out with your baby for the first time, consider your child’s temperament. Do you have a sleepy newborn? A colicky crier? A boisterous baby? Sleepy newborns are particularly easy to take to dinners because they’ll nap through most of the meal. On the other hand, babies with colic or reflux often struggle with the “witching hour” (6-9 p.m.), so lunch or brunch might be a better option for a first meal.
In addition to choosing the right time to eat, parents should think about the right restaurant. Many popular Atlanta restaurants offer kids’ menus, which is a direct invitation to families. At Radial Café in Candler Park, kids eat free on Mondays through Fridays and the restaurant will bring out the child’s meal first so that the child doesn’t need to wait. Chai Pani in Decatur has one of the more creative children’s menus in Atlanta, with a dal and rice option that would work well for babies that are eating solid food.
Though it might seem counterintuitive, loud restaurants often work best rather than quiet restaurants because any noises your baby makes won’t interrupt diners. At a quiet restaurant, the smallest sigh or babble will echo throughout the restaurant and may draw unwanted glares. Restaurants with patios are also great options because babies love being outdoors. And Mexican restaurants tend to be baby-friendly because of their casual, boisterous atmosphere.
Marianne Ortiz Lodin, Atlanta mother of 4-year-old Joaquin and 1-year-old Valentina, recommends Verde Taqueria because it combines all of these attributes with reasonably priced tacos, healthy food options, a nice patio, and a bubbling, kid-friendly environment.
Sweet Melissa’s in Decatur offers live music on the weekends, which keeps the smallest diners entertained and drowns out noisy baby screams.
Food trucks are not only Atlanta’s hottest dining trend, they are also a great choice for parents with babies in tow. The Atlanta Food Truck Park at Howell Mill Road has plenty of benches and picnic tables and your baby will enjoy seeing the sights and sounds from his or her stroller during warmer months.
Once you’re set on your dining location, don’t forget to bring along gear that will help keep your baby calm and happy. Before your baby is old enough to sit unassisted, parents should bring the baby into a restaurant in a carseat, stroller or soft carrier. While some parents opt to bring a portable high chair for sitting babies, most kid-friendly restaurants will have high chairs available.
A hungry baby is an unhappy baby so, first, make sure that your baby is fed. If you are breastfeeding, Georgia law provides that you may breastfeed your baby in any place where both you and your baby are permitted to be, meaning that you may breastfeed at restaurants, with or without a nursing cover. If you are bottle feeding your baby, most restaurants will gladly provide heated water to mix formula packets, though you may need to specify how hot you would like the water to be.
After your baby begins eating purees and solid food, you may want to bring along the following to keep your baby fed: a packet or jar of purees, crackers or Cheerios, a baby spoon, an easily cleanable bib, baby wipes to clean hands and face, and disposable placemats. Many kid-friendly restaurants will bring out children’s meals first to prevent meltdowns.
Unfortunately, every parent knows that meltdowns are sometimes unavoidable. If your baby starts crying, take a deep breath and try walking outside to give your baby a change of scenery. If that doesn’t work, remember that it’s only one meal and try again another time.