One of our guilty pleasures as a couple has always been going out to nice restaurants. After working hard, it’s nice to sit down, enjoy good food, talk, and relax.
Special needs child
After having our first child we weren’t able to go to restaurants because she had a feeding disorder since she was born. We spent the first 20 months of her life surviving our struggles and keeping her alive. She developed a major food aversion, infantile anorexia, and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. After our visit to receive therapy at NoTube in October 2019 when she was 21 months old the food aversion has been reduced, but we still have a long way to go.
At NoTube they told us to go out for dinner, to let her see and smell food in a relaxed and social environment. This would help her development. We had been isolating at home since she was born. Getting her to eat consumed 95% of the day. It was a dark and horrible period in our lives.
We followed up our new task and took Elodie out to restaurants. First we tried regular restaurants which went pretty well and then took her to fine dining and Michelin star restaurants. She has been at a 2-star restaurant when she just turned 2.
Testing the waters
By trying out various restaurants we discovered that she likes quiet restaurants with a relaxed atmosphere, and fancy dishes. Most likely the tiny and colourful dishes spark her interest. Restaurants in hotels are one if it favourites because there is plenty of space in the hallways, and even going up and down the elevator is fun to do in between courses.
I can admit that we are not the easiest customers. Elodie is still learning to eat, so we need to bring along foods that are familiar to her. She also spills a lot because we need to stimulate her sensory development, so she gets more familiar with smells and textures. I can honestly say that the table looks like a big mess when we leave, most of the time under the table as well.
2 hour dinner
We can eat at a restaurant for around 2 hours, so we will down a 5 or 6-course menus in 2 hours. Yes, we still enjoy our meal. Elodie mostly needs to walk between courses, and she is rarely fussy. If possible I take her to a separate space or room with no guests where she can play and explore a bit. So we usually select a restaurant which isn’t too small.
Our I-pad and the toddler apps on our phones are used on a low volume. She is hardly ever fussy when we go out for dinner, and she enjoys the tiny bits of food which look like a piece of colourful art that is served. The atmosphere in fine dining restaurants is quite calm and relaxing, and she actually tries more food in these places than in over crowded noisy restaurants.
For us as parents of a special needs child it is wonderful to see if she tries some food. We always put the dish in front of her first, so she can see if she wants something. She is very impressed if staff does extra things, like adding the sauce or when there are other visual effects.
Toddlers in restaurants
I grew up in a restaurant and used to own a restaurant myself and I saw many parents taking along their child. Most of the time it went well and sometimes the child had a fit. No big deal. Until I saw a post online about not taking children to fine dining restaurants, it never occurred to me that it was not widely accepted to take along your kids.
In our case it is impossible to go out without Elodie because of her eating disorder. We don’t have grandparents, friends or babysitters who can take care of her because of her special needs. We do try to pick times and days when it isn’t likely to be too crowded in the restaurant, so we usually go for lunch during the week. Also, we ask in advance if children are welcome.
We are lucky to say that we have only encountered good experiences so far. I even feel that we are served and treated better at fine dining restaurants. The owners usually tell us that they have been there as well, and they also took their children along, and if they were really fussy they would leave earlier.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand why some people don’t like to see kids at high-end restaurants, they have paid a lot and want to enjoy the experience. However, I feel that children are a part of the family and you shouldn’t feel pressured to dump your child at home unless you really don’t feel comfortable taking your child to a haute cuisine restaurant. You know your children best, and it’s your choice (if the restaurant accepts children).
It’s your choice
So, if you ever feel worried or indecisive about taking your kids, scroll through our restaurant outings in various countries and look at how messy our table looks like. We need to bring food with us because of our toddler’s infantileaanorexia. But we haven’t encountered anyone scolding us or giving the eye. And if they have a high chair or booster seat available, babies and toddlers are welcome anyhow.
Don’t feel too bad if you want to take your kids along, try various restaurants and see what is feasible for your family. And just enjoy your time with your children they already grow up too quickly.