"Really, you either have to wait until you get home or to your car. That's really the only option unless you want to be changing them in the middle of the restaurant," says Marya Oakes, the creator of Baby Takeout, a website that offers information about which restaurants have kids’ menus, changing tables and high chairs. "The basics," says Oakes.
Baby Takeout, Oakes says, helps new parents navigate the choppy waters of dining with rugrats. The target audience isn't limited to moms, she says. "Dads are perhaps the most under-served parents. There's rarely a men's changing station — I don't know how they know what they're getting into."
Oakes got the idea when she and her partner, Sean Heeney, were dining with their young daughter, Mira, at a Boone restaurant that was full of hip young parents yet sorely bereft of any baby-appropriate amenities. "I just didn't think twice about it," she says. "We were away from the car, it was frigid cold outside, and, not only did they not have a changing table, there wasn't a kids’ menu so there was nothing she could eat. So, she didn't get to eat and she was sitting in a dirty diaper. I was like, 'this is ridiculous.'"
She complained to her friends that she wished there was an "app for that" — and many agreed. So, instead of bitching, she started a baby-mama (or daddy) revolution. "I was frustrated with the inconsistency; even with restaurants that have multiple locations, you don't know what to expect," she says. "I thought it would be very helpful for other people, too."
Helpful it is — the site organizes restaurants in order of best to worst in the arena of kid-friendly extras. It also lists restaurants alphabetically so that parents (or friends of parents) can research before dining. Oakes recently added a forum so people can discuss extra offerings at local eateries — nights that kids eat for free or places that offer entertainment for kids, for example.
Oakes rattles off a couple of restaurants that make the grade when it comes to kids. "Tupelo Honey, Mamacita's, any place where you can get sort of a variety, because [my daughter isn't] always necessarily going to like everything," she says. "With Mamacita's, they'll just take one bowl and put several things in it so you don't have to spend $3 here and $3 there — then you're up to spending 10 bucks on your kid's meal — when she may just refuse the whole thing." And Early Girl, she says, has toys and crayons that kids can tinker with while they wait.
Cuisines that are known for being a little spicy or exotic don't have to be off limits for family-friendly dining, either. Chai Pani, for example, offers free meals for kids (accompanied, of course) on Wednesdays. Dishes for kids include corn on the cob, small-fry servings of daal and kids’ parathas. "You don't always have to shy away from things that are ethnic," Oakes agrees. "We ate at a Thai restaurant last night and she was fine. Plus, kids can have a taste of a little something different."
And knowing they can do that without having to dine in a dirty diaper is helpful, too. Visit Baby Takeout at http://www.baby-takeout.com.