A guide to happy dining with infants

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent
Bethia Woolf and her baby eat at San Su Korean.

As someone whose job includes trying new restaurants, "child-friendly" restaurants are a well-understood concept - they provide a range of elements to keep a child happy and occupied during a meal. If you're dining out with a child old enough to appreciate coloring mats, crayons, kid-friendly menus and the like, child-friendly restaurants can be a wonderful thing.

"Baby-friendliness," however, hadn't really occurred to me before I recently became a mother. Doing the job I do, while having my daughter during a drawn-out kitchen remodel, changed that quickly. I came to realize that baby-friendliness is an entirely separate category, and I've learned that restaurants that provide it can have a profound effect on the enjoyment of dining out with an infant.

We all wish diaper changes could wait until we get home, but they often can't. Many new parents have had the experience of changing their wriggling infant on the floor of a restroom or in the back of their car. It's not fun.

Baby-friendly restaurants provide dedicated changing tables. Bonus points for making them accessible to dads, too. John Angelo, father of Amelie, told me, "As hard as it is to find a restaurant with a changing table, it's five times as hard to find a changing table for a child in a men's restroom. Society doesn't really get that dads could be in charge of changing a diaper."

Babies under 6 months are too young for restaurant high chairs. Restaurants that provide slings that can securely hold an infant in a car seat offer a safer option than the typical, precariously upside-down high chairs. Booths, if wide enough, can also be great for sliding in a car seat, and are useful for discreet breastfeeding. Restaurants in walkable neighborhoods where the tables are spaced apart and allow room for strollers are helpful, too.

Northstar Café co-founder and mother of two Katy Malhame explained why her business puts an emphasis on catering to families with babies: "We feel honored that a lot of families bring their babies to Northstar for their first dining experience outside of their homes. We take special pleasure in giving parents an opportunity to get out and bring their babies."

Asian restaurants in general also seem to share that sentiment. A large number of them offer changing tables and slings, including Sunflower, San-Su, Lucky Dragon, Hong Kong House, Edamame and Akai Hana. If you're sufficiently adept with chopsticks, there's an additional advantage - most Asian dishes are designed to be eaten with one hand, and using chopsticks while holding a baby is much easier than eating food that has to be cut with a knife and fork.

Here are a few of Bethia's baby-friendly picks:

Belle's Bread (1168 Kenny Centre Mall, Columbus 43220, 614-451-7110, bellesbread.com) Belle's Bread is a charming café that has an attractive changing table positioned outside the restroom accessible to both parents. We've found it to be a baby-friendly lunch spot and there are always small children there. Car seats can be squeezed into the booths.

Market 65 (65 E. State St. (Downtown), Columbus 43215, 614-564-6565, marketsixtyfive.com) Located opposite the Statehouse with a shady patio and lots of inside booths, Market 65 is a great choice to eat when you're enjoying Downtown parks or museums. Market 65 has changing tables in both the men's and women's restrooms, healthy salads and a bar.

Northstar Café (locations in the Short North, Beechwold and Easton Town Center, thenorthstarcafe.com) All of Northstar's restaurants have baby-changing stations in the women's room, except in the Short North, where it's only in the men's room. They also have kids' booster seats and high chairs in all the cafés. We were able to fit our stroller between tables with assistance from the helpful staff.

Hills Market Downtown (95 N. Grant Ave. (Discovery District), Columbus 43215, 614-702-7900, columbusfoodmarket.com) When you need to shop, eat and change the baby, Hills Market Downtown is the place to go. Easily navigable with a stroller, changing tables in the men's and women's restrooms, and an eat-in inside area plus an outside patio.

Katzinger's (475 S. Third St. (German Village), Columbus 43215, 614-228-3354, katzingers.com) This German Village stalwart has unisex bathrooms with a changing table that can be accessed by mom or dad. When busy, it can be a little crowded for strollers so it's best to go off-peak for more space. The back room is a good place to sit.

Piccadilly (2501 E. Main St. (Bexley), Columbus 43209, 614-725-0204, piccadillydally.com) This cute play café in Bexley has lots to entertain kids as well as a spacious baby-changing counter opposite the restrooms with Ubbi diaper pails and even a supply of emergency diapers.

Zoe (2376 E. Main St. (Bexley), Columbus 43209) The sister restaurant to Tasi Café is about to open in Bexley and will have changing tables in both the men's and women's restrooms.

Columbus Fish Market (1245 Olentangy River Road (Grandview Heights), Columbus 43212, 614-291-3474, mitchellsfishmarket.com) The eatery has changing tables in both the men's and women's restrooms as well as slings and high chairs.

-Bethia Woolf is the owner and operator of Columbus Food Adventures, a food tour company. Visit her website at columbusfoodadventures.com.