When I moved back to New York with my new baby, brunch was one of the many American things I was really looking forward to: a lazy meal, Bloody Marys, friends around the table…brunch is the epitome of “weekend.”
In my mind, the sun was always shining, the food was piled high, and everyone was smiling. But brunch is also notorious for fussy customers, (occasionally) grumpy servers, and (sometimes) disappointing food. Plus, now, with new baby-in-tow, almost everything takes a little extra adjustment.
But that small adjustment is worth it! Please don’t shy away from things that you loved pre-children, thinking that it won’t work. It can! It will! And parents need brunch more than ever. It’s probably not a hangover that you are nursing, but a living child — and that exhaustion isn’t from one late night out partying, but weeks or months of sleep deprivation. Your weekend life probably revolves around baby, and you need to treat yourself too!
What follows is a mother’s guide to enjoying brunch again, with infant- or toddler-in-tow. Every article I’ve ever seen on dining out with children is a list of etiquette rules, or cautions, or preparedness advice. This is none of those. I know you are doing your best. I always find that I’ve forgotten the toy or bib or snack at home, so this is what to do under my typical frazzled parent conditions. This is a step-by-step survival guide.
- Go Early. Simply because no one likes to line up and wait for brunch! It’s worth noting that for those of us with small children, Brunch is really just Lunch. We’ve been awake since dawn, ate some form of breakfast at home, changed, dressed, and played with baby, gone up and down the slide in the playground a million times, had a mid-morning snack, and then ran circles around the block three times before the restaurant even opened its doors at 10am. So this part should be easy.
- Be Friendly. To everyone. Your host, your server, and especially your fellow diners. Yes, as all the etiquette mavens will tell you, part of any restaurant experience is a social contract with those around you. I know that you know this already. The most stressful part of eating out can be worrying about disturbing others. So smile at your neighbors when you are seated. Say hello if it seems right. It’s the genial thing to do, and it’s also a way to open the dialogue in a positive way, so that if disturbance strikes — a scream, a spill, an errant pea — you can apologize, and they will be more likely to shrug it off and smile than to give you “a look” or complain.
- Order. Just do it. Don’t deliberate too long — it’s busy at brunch! — just choose the item that jumped out at you and sounds good right now. If your server is ready, get your order in to the kitchen. And be straightforward. Order from the menu. For everyone. Pro tip: sides often work well as baby meals!
- Entertain. This is where lots of experts tell you to bring a toy, or snack. They are probably right, but I’ll never know! Still, there is a lot to do during the wait time at table. It sounds obvious, but try having a normal animated conversation (like you used to do at brunch!), but this time including little one. If that fails, a game of napkin peek-a-boo makes for happy tableside giggles. Sometimes, a quick peek outside for fresh air helps.
- Eat. Enjoy! Feed yourself first, but share some with your little one too if you can. When your baby is old enough to explore the taste, texture, color or smell of the food on your plate, it’s exciting to expose them to lots of new things.
- Feed. Depending on the age of your child, you will probably need to facilitate feeding in some way: by fork, spoon, bottle, or breast. Like many mamas, I cringe at the thought of starting a scene, but nursing in public is easier now. It helps to have a friend or partner as a physical buffer, so that you aren't rubbing elbows or shoulders with a stranger, but do what makes YOU most comfortable.
- Clean-up. I do grab a napkin and clean up the floor after restaurant meals. I figure we make a bigger mess than most guests, and I’d rather help a little than not at all.
- Tip. Graciousness does go a long way, but a tip goes farther. You want to return next weekend, don't you?
- Relax. Really. Take a deep breath. That wasn’t so bad, was it? Next time you’ll be even more calm and confident!
Written by Melissa Elders. Melissa is the founder of Nibble+squeak, which hosts special dining events for parents with pipsqueaks-in-tow. She's just returned from a decade abroad in London, where she managed international sales and marketing for a group of independent publishers. Now based in Brooklyn with her family, she produces cutting-edge community events and festivals.