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I Was the Alinea Baby, But Charming: How To Keep Your Kids Chill at Fancy Restaurants

Are you aware, on the edges of your bleary Monday morning periphery, that a hot new @AlineaBaby Twitter account exists, but you have no idea what it’s in reference to, and can only surmise that Grant Achatz is opening a to-go counter next door? Well, what actually happened is that a couple brought along an eight-month old baby diner to the restaurant with them, who apparently bothered the other patrons with some screaming, and now Grant Achatz is considering banning children altogether, and the internet is demolishing this poor mother who — can we please note? — sat through an entire Alinea dinner with a crying baby on her lap.

Here’s the thing: while I am single and childless and probably destined for spinsterdom, I have a biological clock that’s been ticking since the age of 19. I love babies. I have nothing but sympathy for moms struggling in public places, and, really, I just think it’s mean to banish children from restaurants like they aren’t people.

Clearly, if your child is screaming and interrupting the experience of other diners, you should go take care of that somewhere. Missing out on the smoke effect of one of those glass-domed dishes is the risk you take bringing a small child to a fine dining establishment with you. There might be mines you have to navigate and temper tantrums are among them.

Conscientious parents want their kids to be adventurous eaters, and recognize a tomato, and stop eating processed foods, but how does anyone expect that to happen when kids aren’t exposed to adventurous experiences (which is basically the definition of an Alinea tasting menu)?

Admittedly, bringing an infant who won’t be eating said (solid) foods is probably a bad idea. But wait a couple of years and your tyke, too, could be one of those brats who love foie gras, as I may or may not have been at the tender age of four.

I suppose the argument can be made that it was a simpler time, and that my mother was one of those horrid women who dressed her toddler up and trounced her out to classical French restaurants, client brunches, and tapas bars. But the argument could also be made that my mother was a badass. Here’s a photo of us circa 1989 from which you may draw your own conclusions:

My first classy dining experience was a brunch at a Hyatt Regency in the suburbs of Chicago when I was less than a year older than the Alinea Baby. I, too, spent the meal in my mother’s lap, and while no other diners were disturbed, it turned out that I was behaved only because I was quietly chewing on an antique Russian locket around my mother’s neck, and by the time she took notice, I had eaten off all the enamel. But she doesn’t advocate bringing infants to fancy restaurants, either.

I was a toddler regular at an upscale French bistro, where the staff knew my parents, because they would inform the restaurant ahead of time when they were bringing a small child. With the proper coloring accoutrements, I was a polite table guest.

Tapas-style ordering was my favorite, because I thought the onslaught of dishes arriving the moment I had finished my previous one was special attention the waitstaff was paying just to me. (Shocker: I was into attention.) One time, a French chef sent out prosciutto-wrapped melon balls, specially made for the charming three-year-old in his dining room, and guess what? That shit was delicious. The story goes that it was my favorite dish, until they brought my mother’s order of foie gras, which I promptly decided was my new favorite, and which she never saw again.

“The reason you behaved well is because you were not 8-months-old,” she contends. “We did have an incident where you misbehaved and I took you to the car and we sat there. We talked about why we were in the car and you promised to sit in your chair, no more temper tantrums, and that was the last time we had to do that. But every time we would go to a nice restaurant, we sat you down and explained to you that it was fancy and you would get dressed up and you always always behaved.”

More pro-parenting tips for raising foodie children from a Braiser Mom include:

  • “Give the restaurant the courtesy of knowing you’re bringing a child to find out if he or she can be accommodated. In my experience, they try very hard.”
  • “Make a reservation for when the restaurant isn’t very busy. We would do Tuesday or Wednesday around 5-6pm.”
  • “I, personally, do not have a problem with little babies at nice restaurants, but if they get cranky, you have to be able to think on your feet. You can’t just sit there and let the baby cry just because you are out. One of the parents might need to take the baby out to the car and drive around the block a few times until the baby falls asleep, and then go back in. (See previous note about missing courses being the risk you take.) But there is absolutely no reason to stay at the restaurant if you cannot calm your baby down. You need to leave. Fine dining can be a great place to teach your children appropriate behavior when they’re a little older.”
  • “But the most important thing I learned from going out with two small children is that you simply wanted to be included in the conversation. When we ignored you to talk amongst ourselves is when you’d get upset.”

Also, parents, this was a long-ass time ago. Now, you can give your kids things like iPads to keep them occupied. Imagine the conversations my parents could have held if I’d had such a thing.

Don’t ban kids from Alinea because of one cranky, probably teething baby, Grant. I promise you don’t want to miss seeing a precocious kindergartner’s face when you smash that chocolate ball in front of her.

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