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The littlest Ansley *loves* dining out.

I have always loved dining out and finding the new, undiscovered food gems in our area. When I got pregnant, I never really seriously considered that having a baby would get in the way of my food adventures. Of course I expected there to be a period of time where I just never really wanted to go out (in public… at all), but I never worried about my baby “getting in the way” per se. I also never considered the fact that lots of restaurants are not fond of, and hence do not cater to and offer small conveniences for, folks with children.

Hence, the last 10 months have been a learning curve in which some of my previous favorite spots are now on my naughty list, and places I wouldn’t have thought of  have taken over the top ranking spots, largely because of the courtesy extended to families with kids.

I find it obnoxious that a lot of places just assume that if you have children, you wouldn’t dare eat there because it’s a “nicer” establishment. Newsflash, restaurateurs: just because I have a baby doesn’t mean I want to eat family-style diner food all the time. I’m still gonna do me and delicious food –even in higher-end restaurants– baby or not. So here’re things I appreciate when dining out, no matter what type of establishment.

1) Cleanliness. Everywhere, especially the (uncluttered) tables themselves and the bathrooms.

2) Smiling faces. Please don’t roll your eyes or look panicked when I walk in with my 10-month old, as if we are not allowed or crazy to attempt a meal out in your restaurant.

3) High chairs/booster seats. Ones that have safety straps that are not broken. And preferably, ones that have been wiped down in the last month or two. I always give the high chair a quick wipe down before putting my son in it anyway and another once he’s done, but please do your customers the service of at least a daily disinfecting wipe down.

4) Common sense and courtesy with staff. Placing anything right in front of my baby (i.e. setting a hot cup of coffee down right in front him, which happened the other day), is a big no-no.

5) Last but certainly not least, and this one is huge for me: please have a place for us to change our babies. Especially when you actively promote yourself as a family establishment, nothing infuriates me more than walking into an expansive bathroom with plenty of wall space only to have nothing in there for me to change my baby on. Even a decorative table the size of a changing table will do; just give me something to work with. Also, Koala Bear Care changing stations are perfectly affordable, easy to clean, and come in a variety of sizes and finishes to suit even fancy establishments. If you have 2 feet of open wall space, you can have a changing station. And if you want to win the max possible points and get yourself some lifetime repeat customers, have changing stations in both the women’s and men’s restrooms. Dads change diapers, too. Not all families have moms. Nothing ruins a dining experience more quickly than having to change a baby on a toilet seat, a floor, or having to walk out to our car to do it in the back seat.

As for my part, I do my best to make sure my kid is a pleasure while dining out, no matter how fancy or not the place is, and I think more restaurants would back off on the anti-kid attitude if parents as a whole could jump on board. Teach your children manners (obviously tantrums happen; it’s ok. Kids are unpredictable turds, but laying down the foundation for respectful public behavior while they’re young is so important). Clean up after yourselves to an extent (pick all your crap up off the floor, for example). Compliment the good food, and smile at/make eye contact with your wait staff while talking to them. Kids pick up on those behaviors and learn by example, and anyway its mega adorable when a 2 year old compliments the chef of their own accord.

I want my son and future kids to enjoy all different kinds of food and have diverse palates, so a lot of the time that means going out for new experiences. Having more options is always nice, and being comfortable and feeling welcome in the place we choose is vital. Hopefully, in years to come, more local restaurants can get on board with having some younger clientele.

So tell us, Sonoma County! What things do you most dislike and/or most appreciate when dining out with your kids? What are your top picks for places to go?

-Stephanie Ansley