Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Why don't we all go out for dinner? and other sources of comedy.

My Wife and I love food.  More precisely, we love good food (although we have been known to disagree on the definition of "good" from time to time).  Before Sidney, we would go out to dinner at least twice a week to indulge our taste buds in the outrageously fantastic fare available in NYC, and that's not to mention the breakfasts, brunches and lunches we could be easily talked into as well.  We went out with Abuela and Abeulo, we went out with Nana and the Admiral, we went out with friends ... hell, friendly enough strangers could talk us into a meal out.  However, once Sidney was born, predictably the gastronomical outings became distinctly fewer and further apart, but our love for the tasty remained.  Now, My Wife happens to be a fantastic cook, and thus we have outrageously good meals at home ... but that means clean up.  My point?  We love food and not having to clean up after.  No wonder, then, the aforementioned affinity for the NYC restaurant/diner/gastro-truck/guy-selling-meat-on-a-stick scene.  Rambling story short, Sidney needed to learn to eat at restaurants.  Who are we kidding, it's actually that we were needed to learn how to handle Sidney at restaurants.  To this end, we try to go out at least once a week for a family meal, and there have been some definite ups and downs along the way.  What have we learned?  I'm glad you (or, more accurately, I) asked.

With considerably further ado, I give you the guaranteed partially effective checklist for having a moderately successful meal at a restaurant with Sidney (so long as by successful you mean "getting to finish a majority of the meal" ... and by "majority" you mean "got to shove 2/3 of your food into your mouth without [excessively] choking").  With me so far?  Good:

1) Get to the restaurant at an "off-hour" for the desired meal.  Basically, this means "get there before the rush."  So, for weekend breakfasts we're talking at or before 8am (hey, this is NYC, who the hell is up before noon on a weekend other than parents of young children? That's right, nobody ... unless Nana and the Admiral are visiting, then them), for a lunch 11ish or 2ish,  and for dinner 5.  Notice something?  Yep, we're talking early bird hours.  Babies and Geriatrics; cue Sunrise/Sunset, flowery circle of life clich√©, et al.  There will be more room, the wait-staff will be happy to have a tipping table during the off time (more later) and you'll feel less bad about ruining someone else's meal in the event of a MeltDown™.

2) Pick a restaurant that is not quiet.  Sidney is, thankfully, very expressive.  He babbles, he uses the words he does know (often), and when he gets bored of that he just makes noise.  At 15 months, this is a great developmental thing.  Sure, as he grows we'll (hopefully) be able to teach him proper volume control, but for now it means we bring what amounts to a foreign language color commentator wherever we go; you understand a few scattered words, you know he's describing some on-going thing and every now and then he enthusiastically declares a scoring play.  In a loud restaurant, this all just blends into the noise; bonus points at places actually showing sports.  We've found establishments that play music are ideal, with large boisterous establishments coming in a close second.  This brings us to

3) Learn to spot "kid friendly" restaurants.  Aside from the blaring advertisements for the obvious "kid party-places" (which, really ... no.  Sorry Mr. E. Cheese [HA, pun], I'd rather pass), how does one know a restaurant is kid-friendly?  First, look for strollers.  Easy give-away.  Be wary of too many strollers, however, because this can mean either a private party is going on, or you have merely stumbled into a less obviously advertised ring of hel ... I mean "kid party-place".  Next, look for other families.  The kids may be out of strollers, but having one or two other families there likely means the place passes kid-muster.  Finally, and this one is key, ask if they have high-chairs.  My Wife and I have come to the conclusion that if your establishment has even a single high-chair, you contemplate young-ins as patrons.  Side note, you'd be surprised how many pubs in NYC have high-chairs ... rules 2 and 3 satisfied in one swoop!  Bonus: pubs showing soccer and/or rugby matches.  Everyone is pretty much expecting random exclamations in something vaguely reminiscent of English ... not to mention patrons possibly puking and/or peeing at the tables.

4) Bring stuff for the kid to do.  This one was all My Wife (and she gives credit to Nana), but it is dead on: a bored kid is a noisy fidgety kid, so bring thinks to keep them occupied.  For Sidney this means coloring books, a toy or two and Daddy's KindleFire (loaded with Bubble Guppies).  You start with the coloring book, he draws for a bit, throws the crayon, you switch to the toy, he plays with that for a bit, throws that, hopefully by then your food has arrived and you put on Bubble Guppies and that buys you the final few minutes to get your meal down.  Somewhere in there you feed him, which means hand him various foods that he either eats (GREAT) or throws (damnit).  The most successful meal we have had to date involved Sidney chewing on a lemon while watching Bubble Guppies for a full 15 minutes.  Hey, don't look the gift-horse in the mouth, just saddle up and ride it out.  Bonus: vitamin C.

5) Tip commensurate with the mess.  Had a relatively decent meal and want to be able to come back and not be told the high-chair mysteriously went missing?  Tip the poor people that now have to clean up the child-dining ground zero.  Kids in general make a mess, toddlers whom have a penchant for simply dropping (or tossing) food they are "done" with make spectacular messes.  So, leave a little extra for the trouble.  Think of it as an investment in future pleasant meals, your dining karma if you will.

Tune in next time when we cover packing for a family vacation.  No, really, we have to pack this week for a vacation and there is no way this isn't going to end in comedy.


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