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Is taking (young) children out to a restaurant a living nightmare that most parents try once, and then give up on? Or can kids and restaurants combine very well... if only the children learn a little about basic etiquette? The answer isn't simple, but those who love to eat out can probably find a restaurant at which kids are welcome.

Before we had kids, my husband and I ate out all the time. We traveled a lot, and going to restaurants is what you do in foreign countries. Then we got pregnant, and took the new baby to our favorite restaurant down the road from us a few days after she was born. After all, who wants to cook after having given birth? The waiters were amazed to see such a small baby, and congratulated their regular customers on becoming parents.

They were not so enthusiastic when we turned up for lunch again, and I breastfed. In fact, I was asked to go up to the office to nurse my baby in there, so it wouldn't bother other people. I was angry. We came there to eat, and our baby wanted to eat, too. This was the start of the end of my love-affair with eating out. We tried again, of course, though not at the same place. Actually, going to a restaurant with small babies is pretty easy. It's toddlers, preschoolers, and even beyond, that are the worst.

I didn't want to accept that I'd be relegated to the McDonald's until the kids were grown. But I do know that people who planned a romantic dinner at an exclusive restaurant did so with the intention to enjoy each other's company and quiet, intimate conversation, along with wonderful food. They didn't come to listen to my crying baby or to look at my toddler's dirty hands spreading tomato sauce all over the tablecloth (that won't come out!).

We decided to practice table etiquette at home, and to enjoy a coffee and a cake at a kid-friendly place often, but to avoid those places where other people might legitimately irritated by the kids. We also drop into our local vegetarian place for lunch. They offered to let our homeschool group meet there, kids included, so we know they really, really don't mind and it's not meant to be an exclusive place. Besides that, though, we've accepted that it is not very relevant whether we think restaurants and kids combine, if other people disagree with us.

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