You know exactly what the fear is. You're out with your spouse, a friend, or your family, your baby in your arms, and suddenly, your little dreamboat turns into The Baby Who's Never Acted This Way Before. She'll cry, she'll make a mess, or she'll just be completely unable to sit still.
Babies and the sophisticated dining experience are not natural companions. On the other hand, one-year-olds love going to family-friendly restaurants, and parents may appreciate the experience, too, as long as they have the capacity to let disaster roll off their backs.
The majority of restaurants weren't designed for one-year-old guests. Be realistic about which restaurants and restaurant guests will want to share their space with a one-year-old and how much time in a restaurant your baby can handle. Be sure you tell your dining companions how much time you and your baby can comfortably spend at the table so that you're not stuck with someone who lingers too long after a meal.
If you don't know the restaurant you are going to, call ahead to find out if they have highchairs. If they don't, change venues. Also, try to get a sense of how “grown-up” the restaurant is. During your phone call to the restaurant, you might ask if children are often there for dinner. If you have to make reservations, tell them you are bringing a child; the host's response will let you know how helpful they will be to you and your family.
You want a restaurant with fairly speedy service, as one-year-olds should only be there for an hour at most. When you go, bring along the following:
A few toys
Food for your baby
A change of clothes for your baby
Diapers and a cloth or mat for changing
In many big cities, there are close-to-upscale restaurants that welcome young children. Ask friends with children or search online for places that give children pizza dough to pound or crayons they can use to write and draw on the paper table cover. Some places even have Cheerios right on the menu. The best part about these restaurants is that they also have grown-up food that you'll enjoy.
You certainly have the right to take your child to most public places. At the same time, you know that your one-year-old is not capable of knowing the right way to behave in a fancy restaurant. Although she may do just beautifully while you and your companions dine, rest assured that it is not because she knows her manners. You just got lucky.
If your child behaves like most one-year-olds — babbling, trying to move around, and banging things on the table (this is learning for a one-year-old, remember) — while you're out, be sure no one around you is bothered excessively. More importantly, stay calm with your child and realize that she is having fun, not trying to be rude.
Before you spend too much time trying to shush or ignore your child, realize that she will not change in these few minutes and she should not be expected to act older than her age. Young children don't understand the concept behind manners. They want to explore and have fun in their own one-year-old way (walking around, playing, touching everything), so it's best to realize that her behavior will be okay in a very casual setting (usually a restaurant that actually encourages children to come in), but not a formal one.
Sometimes the problem baby isn't yours — it's one you're with. If that's the case, reassure the mother that you've gone through this and that she should feel free to do what she needs to (take her baby outside for a moment or leave) in order to be comfortable. The most important thing for any mom is that she not be overly stressed.
Everyone has their own sense of what behavior is acceptable and how far they feel their children can go before it's time to either leave the restaurant or face the stares of fellow diners. Some parents need the night out and the cooked meal more than they need to make the strangers at nearby tables happy. Your child will be oblivious to the way her noise is affecting everyone around you. However, she will not be oblivious to your growing tension and self-consciousness (if you feel it).
To avoid ruining your dinner, you might discuss a game plan ahead of time with the other adults in your party. Who is up for taking your child for a short walk outside before the meal arrives? Who wants to sit next to her during the meal to help her with her food and to stay quiet?
Some adults really want to eat in peace and will not want to be responsible for any children accompanying them. Discussing these things ahead of time will keep everyone at the table from getting frustrated or irritated with each other.
If your child is crying uncontrollably or having a tantrum, go outside for a minute or pay the check and leave. It really isn't fair to other diners, and they definitely don't want to see you or your child struggling with bad behavior. The manager of the restaurant has a right to expect good behavior on the part of his visitors, and he may pay a price in business if diners near you are afraid to come back because they think crying children are a part of the dining experience at this particular restaurant. But don't make this unsettling experience the fault of your one-year-old. Good restaurant behavior is not a typical developmental expectation that is appropriate for this age.
You can begin to teach your child basic table manners, such as taking small bites and using a napkin. By the time she turns two, she will be able to understand how to lower her voice, know not to throw things on the floor, and to sit still for a few minutes at a time when asked.
Remember, you can always ask for the check and leave a restaurant sooner rather than later. Take heart — like most things about your one-year-old, chances are the next time you take your child out, she'll behave completely differently.