Tips for Eating at Restaurants When You Have Aphasia
Restaurants can be tricky when you have aphasia. Whether you’re ordering at the counter with a line behind you or navigating a new menu, restaurant visits can be a delicious AND stressful experience. Layer in loud music playing or multiple people speaking at once, and you may wonder if takeout would be a better option.
But we decided collectively during a recent Aphasia Cafe chat that dining out is worth it, especially when you have these tips at the ready.
Dining Out Difficulties
We started out the chat by asking how difficult you find going to new restaurants (places where you don’t know the menu) on a scale from 1 – 10 (with 10 being super hard and 1 being easy).
Most people found dining between 5 and 8 on the difficulty scale.
Additionally, we asked when going to a new restaurant, do you look at the menu beforehand and think about what you’ll order?
Over half (57.1%) felt more relaxed reading the menu without a waiter hovering nearby. So that’s where our tips begin: Prepare before leaving the house.
Most restaurants post their menus online, either on their website or on a takeout service such as Postmates, DoorDash, Grubhub or Uber Eats. It’s easy to sit down and peruse the menu without time pressures.
Beyond the menu itself, look on the restaurant’s Facebook page or Yelp for customer-uploaded images of meals. Pictures can go a long way in helping you know if you’re going to get something you want or if you’re misunderstanding the menu.
Talk About Aphasia
“Tell the waiter about your communication problem and ask them to be slow.” –Manav
When you enter the restaurant, tell the host or your waiter about aphasia. You can give them some communication tips, such as speaking slowly and accepting thumbs up or thumbs down answers.
When we asked during the chat if people explained aphasia to their waiter at the beginning of the meal, 47% of people said they consistently educated waitstaff, 24% said sometimes, and 29% said never. Remember, every time you speak about it, you do a favour for the rest of the community by making the public more aphasia aware.
The Menu Matters
“I go to restaurants that have menus printed so I can read them. I like seafood so I find limited menus which makes it easier.” –Bruce
No one wants to read a book in order to get a meal. (Cheesecake Factory––we’re looking at you.) Look for restaurants with limited menus. It’s not just aphasia-friendly––restaurants with limited menus stick to what they do very well instead of trying to cook everything under the sun.
“Choose a meal that doesn’t need using the knife a lot. ” –Kremena
It’s not just communication; you may want to think about your physical needs. Do you have the dexterity for knives or chopsticks? Do you prefer finger foods or softer foods such as an omelet so you only need one utensil?
Self-sufficiency matters, so speak up if your dining mates are choosing a restaurant that doesn’t fit your needs.
Music to Your Ears
“You can ask to turn the music down!” –Pamela
When we asked during the chat, we discovered that we were evenly split (50% yes and 50% no) when it came to music playing in the restaurant. Some people felt like it added to the sensory experience. Other people found music and background noise impeded communication.
You can always ask the host to seat you away from speakers or turn down the music. They may say no, but you won’t know if you don’t ask. Make sure you seat yourself next to someone aphasia-friendly who will keep you part of the table conversation.
Time of Day Matters
If you find restaurants overwhelming, choose a time when they’re not as busy. An 11 am or 2 pm lunch is much more relaxing than one at noon with a big crowd. Or instead of meeting friends for dinner, suggest a time earlier in the day when you may have more energy and the restaurant less noise.
Don’t Mess With Allergies
“Bring a list of dietary concerns/preferences.” –Abigail
There’s plenty of time to practice your speech but allergies aren’t one of them. Make sure that there’s no room for misunderstanding when it comes to food allergies, dietary concerns, or preferences. Write out everything the chef needs to know and laminate the card so you can hand it to the waiter to read while they take your order. Keep this card in your wallet so you’re always ready to dine out in a new place where you may need to ask questions about the menu.
Repeat After Me
“View online menu prior to arrival, rehearse a script for placing an order, point to the menu when ordering, request server to repeat back to confirm the order. May wish to select a restaurant setting with less background noise and a slower, more relaxed pace.” –Diana
Ask your waiter to repeat back your order… slowly. That last word is key because waiters often rattle off the order quickly. Make sure they slow down when they come to your order and repeat back what they have written down, word for word.
Order in Advance
“I recommend script cards with questions/statements/pictures you generally use to communicate needs/requests at restaurants. You can practice beforehand or use them while you speak with the staff to support your communication. The more you use them, the more you reinforce your own speech/language production. 2) Looking at the menu ahead––whether before you get there or even as you wait. 3) Place orders through apps.” ––Heather
Some restaurants––especially chain restauranrs––have apps where you can place your order before you’ve entered the establishment and then pick up your order to go. People on the chat had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it’s easier. But people also felt that it’s important to push yourself to speak your order as well as get out and about (rather than aiming for takeout).
Restaurants can be a great place to practice communication. So make sure you try a new place every once in a while.
What are your best tips for dining in restaurants?
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