A few years ago, before I had my daughter Gates and before cubes and I started trying to have children, I shared a Michelin star dining experience with a four year old.
So what better way to celebrate our one year old's birthday? She loves food. Relatives were staying near by, so it was the perfect opportunity. For Gates' first birthday, we took her to dinner at a Michelin star restaurant: Luce.
Now, don't roll your eyes. We didn't decide on a whim to simply take her to a Michelin star restaurant. We started preparing Gates for the experience months prior.
What are your tips and tricks?
If you don't have children, or you've dined out anywhere where others have had kids, you're probably jumping to a conclusion that a toddler at a Michelin star restaurant would be a nightmare. Screaming child. Or worse, a tike running this way and that across the dining room floor while you're trying to enjoy a quiet evening out.
Had I not seen it done, I'd be thinking the same thing. In fact, I was when I saw a four year old walk into a Michelin star restaurant I was dining at in Las Vegas.
I was at Fleur de Lys in Las Vegas (now closed). I was there for work and was treating myself to a sumptuous dining experience. Like what you're thinking, I was filled with a sense of impending dread when I saw them seated nearby. I had fears of a lovely dining experience turning into a nightmare. But I was pleasantly surprised.
The family that was seated near me at Fleur de Lys was a French family. And what struck me most about the family were two things: the manners of their four year old and his knowledge of food. Along with his parents, he had ordered the tasting menu. With each course, he eloquently told his parents what he liked and disliked. I thought immediately that if I ever had a child I would want them to act like this four year old.
It was this experience I had in mind when we booked a table at a Michelin star restaurant for Gates' first birthday. I wanted to enjoy a similar experience with Gates. (Now I was't expecting Gates at twelve months to be as articulate as the four year old. Her vocabulary includes fewer words and she's sampled less foods than the four year old.)
Before we brought Gates to a Michelin star restaurant, she'd joined us at a few of our favorite SF restaurants. We started dining with her off peak, between brunch and dinner, and on weekdays after the morning rush. We've also tried to instill in Gates a respect for food. What does this mean for a toddler? It means sampling what's put in front of you.
We discovered that Gates had a mature palate pretty early on, liking curried, pickled cauliflower and Tom Yum soup. We also learned that Gates preferred to eat what we were eating, fussing when she was not given the same dish. (The only times Gates has been fussy at restaurants has been when we're eating and she's not.)
On Saturday, we had the opportunity to dine at a Michelin star restaurant, Luce, with Gates. Gates, the budding foodie that she is, loved every minute of it. She scarfed down the freshly baked sourdough roll, grabbing the halves when I wasn't feeding her fast enough. And eagerly tried the Pistachio, Kohlrabi, and Carrot Amuse Bouche with Vinaigrette. She liked the taste of it but with only two and a half teeth was unable to chew the Kohlrabi. Gates' favorite dish was the Roasted Diver Scallops with Butter Beans, Broccoli di Ciccio, and Hen Consommé.
If you're looking to take your toddler out to dinner with you, here are some tips that will make the experience enjoyable for both you and the diners around you.
5 Tips for Taking a Toddler Out to Dinner
- Call first. If a restaurant has high chairs, it's a good sign that they're used to toddlers. Also, you'll be able to tell if they're less than excited about the idea.
- Dine early (or off peak). Besides toddlers eating at their own pace, you need to remember you'll be taking longer with each course as it needs to cool before your toddler can start eating. Depending on the item this can take five to ten minutes. Waitstaff will be less patient with you and your toddler if there are people waiting for your table.
- Keep her attention. Bring toys that secure to the high chair, you'll spend less time diving under the table and fellow guests will be thankful she's not drumming silverware against the table. Pay attention to the body language of guests that are nearby. You'll know if your little one is being too loud relative to the restaurant's ambiance.
- Know her triggers. If your little one wants to eat when everyone else is eating, make sure she can. (For example, at Hog and Rocks, when we eat pickled veggies out of our Bloody Mary's, Gates has her own plate of alcohol-free pickled veggies to enjoy.) If your little one needs to eat at a certain time and the entree's not yet served, have a bottle or a snack at the ready.
- Have a plan B. If dinner stretches longer than your little one's attention span or ability to sit still, know who is going to walk with her and where. (As cubes' mom was staying at the Intercontinental, we had stashed Gates' pack and play upstairs before dinner. Half way through the main course, cubes and Gates retreated upstairs.)
What are your tips and tricks?
Credits: All layouts designed by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life. Most images were taken for The Road to The Good Life by Eden Hensley Silverstein with the exception of the first image taken by Daniel Silverstein.