In principle, I’m a big advocate of taking young children out to eat.
I think it’s really important that Miss O is regularly exposed to the experience whilst she’s little, and I love that she gets the opportunity to try different flavours and dishes (I imagine that’s also a big plus for her; the food at Chez Mama is hardly 5 star). In practice though, it’s a bit of a mission.
Pre- and post-baby dining adventures are VERY different beasts:
- Those days of simply wandering into that lovely bistro you’ve happened upon are officially dead. We have to pack a bloody suitcase full of changing gear, eating equipment and tantrum-prevention tricks before we can even leave the house; it looks like we’re moving in, not stopping for a quick bite.
- There is no such thing as an evening meal anymore – you’re heading back out the door with your ketchup-covered toddler long before the pensioners start rocking up for their early-bird specials.
- Our restaurant selection criteria has changed somewhat:
“What’s the food/service/ambience like?”
“What percentage of the food is nugget/finger-shaped?”
“Is it child-friendly?” (painfully bright/aggressively colourful/cloaked in despair)
“Are there children noisier than mine inside?”
“They DEFINITELY sell wine here, right??”
- An empty restaurant used to be a bit of a let-down. These days it’s a real happy dance moment – I’m all for having a smaller audience/victim pool when the sh*t inevitably hits the fan…
- Wooden spoons now indicate two things – your table number, and the number of times your child will repeatedly smack it against the table before you completely lose your cool (“don’t do that sweetie; no…that’s enough now…look at me, don’t hit the…oh for f*ck sake!! It’s like eating with the cast of bloody Stomp!”).
- There are certain situations you just learn to avoid. Those American diner-esque booths have been a big no-no since Miss O spent an entire meal lounging over the back of one trying to pat the head of the poor sod sitting behind us.
- Hot food is a ticking time bomb. Toddlers flippin’ love it when you place a tempting plate of food in front of them, then tell them they can’t touch it. Cue frantic blowing, fanning and goujon-dismantling in a bid to stem the waterworks.
- I used to think those balloons they have near the counter were a lovely touch for families. Now I know that I’m in for an hour of latex b*tch slaps to the face, followed by an earful from Miss O when I finally snap and confiscate the damn thing. Thanks, guys, thanks a chuffing bunch.
- For adults, it’s all about finger food – one hand to eat, the other to prevent your little darling from impaling herself with the cutlery/eating the complimentary crayons / lobbing breadsticks at the couple on the next table.
- Laminated menus win; they’re much harder to chew. Plastic glasses rule; they’re much harder to smash. Dungarees are essential; they’re much easier to remove when your child’s arse explodes all over the high chair…
- I end up spending way more time under the table searching for Duplo/peas/my dignity, than actually eating at it.
- There’s none of that romantic feeding each other dessert nonsense – we’re mainly fending off Miss O’s attempts to force regurgitated sweet potato fries into our mouths.
- When they bring us the bill, we never get offered coffee anymore; it’s almost like they don’t want us to linger?
I think we’ve got a little while to go before she’s mastered the whole dining etiquette thing.