Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dining Out with Babies: Making it Easier for Others

Last time, we shared some tips for parents to make dining out with their babies a little less stressful. We wanted to follow that up with a post on what you might do if you found yourself in a restaurant (as I did) near to a baby old enough to sit up at another table. As a fellow diner, it is easy to make dining out with babies easier for parents. Not being rude is a great start. But, we know you want to do more than that.We know that our readers can astonish others by “reading” the universal signals used by babies. There is no better time to use that skill than when you find yourself in a restaurant with a baby.

Here are a few things you can do:

1. Make it clear that you welcome the baby. Smile knowingly, stay relaxed and if you get an opportunity, say something nice about the baby. This may sound obvious but you may be the only one in the room who is welcoming.

2. If the baby is alert and looking around, try to catch the baby’s eye. The baby (as long as she is old enough) will be looking for a friendly face and once the baby sees you, the baby will take a good long look. You’ll see how hard the baby will work to figure out where you fit in the world. After all, the baby has no idea whether or not you are a relative or likely to be someone they will see again and again. If you maintain eye contact with the baby and the baby is old enough, you’ll see the baby “refer” to mom or dad to see if you are on the “approved faces” list. I hope you are. If not (sadly, some parents are very suspicious of everyone), just let it go and enjoy your meal.

3. Let the baby be the guide for any further interaction. Babies love attention and if you are making eye contact while their parents are busy looking over the menu, the baby is likely to try to engage you in some way. The baby may smile, open his eyes wider, or stare at you intently. Many babies will start a game of peek-a-boo by looking at you then burying their faces in their parents’ shoulders, then looking at you again. Here’s some fun “across the table/room” games to play.

a. Peek-a-boo – there are many variations of this game but the gist is that the baby looks at you, then stops looking at you and then looks at you again. Thrilling, eh? Well, if not for you, definitely for babies. If you look away when she looks at you or hide behind your hands or your menu, the baby will at first watch you closely then start to play as soon as she figures out that she has a new playmate. The excitement for the baby comes from being able to predict that she will see your happy face again.

b. Mirror games – babies love it when you repeat their actions. If baby shakes her head and then you shake your head, she’ll smile and do it again. The more you do it, the better the baby is able to predict what you’ll do, the more the baby will be amused and laugh. Clapping is another great activity for mirroring. Remember that the baby must always be the leader.

c. Pointing games – babies love to point at things and have their parents talk to them about what they are pointing to. When you are a little farther away, you can make it clear that you are interested in what they are pointing to by looking in the direction in which they are pointing. If you are close enough and it is acceptable, you can talk to the baby about what you see. If not, you can change your facial expression enough that the baby knows you are paying attention. Looking surprised or pleased to see what the baby is showing you will keep the game going.

There are two things to remember that will help your game playing be more fun for everyone. First, always let the baby lead the games and actions. When baby is in charge and predicting what will happen, the baby will be gloriously happy. Second, watch for disengagement cues. These cues will let you know if the baby is getting overstimulated. Playing with a stranger can be hard work! While I‘ve shared several ideas for playing, these games don’t have to make you miss your dinner. Most babies stay interested in strangers for only a few moments and by playing, you’ve given a clear message to the parents and others around you that you value the baby and the opportunity to interact. Bon Appetit!


  1. These are some excellent and very doable tips. As long as I can remember, and for some reason I don't know, I instinctively try to make eye-contact with any baby I come across. Does everyone not do this?

  2. I think most people will try to engage with babies but sadly, the ones that don't are sometimes openly rude and that's who parents remember.