Dining out is a major part of American culture and social life. Whether you are dining out alone or with family and friends, it can be relaxing, enjoyable and entertaining. But I know that with a visual impairment it might be stressful and frustrating. Not being able to see the table setting, flagging down the waiter, reading the menus clearly or determining the food items on your plate can create anxiety and annoyance. But here are a few tips to make the overall experience pleasant and fun.
When you first enter a restaurant, ask your sighted companion or a restaurant staff person to describe the layout so that you can decide where you would like to sit. Keep in mind things such as table/booth arrangements, windows (to avoid glare), steps and restroom locations. You can also just request where you want to sit whether it be at a table for four or a large booth. Also indicate whether you want to sit close to the front door of the restaurant or toward the rear. Letting the sighted staff or your companion know will help insure you sit in a place that is comfortable for you.
Once you arrive at your table, ask your guide to place your hand on the back of the chair where you are going to sit. This will help you know the position of the chair and table. Also ask about table settings. For example, ask about the location of the silverware, condiments and menus. You can also explore your table setting by gently placing your hands on the table top and sliding them around the table to locate these items.
When it comes to reading the menu there are a couple of things you can do. One is have the menu read to you at the table. For best results, have an idea of what type of food you want to eat; like fish, steak, hamburgers, veggie plate, salad, etc. This will help the person reading the menu to target specific areas verses trying to read the entire menu of items. Second you can read the menu in advance on the restaurant’s website. Today, many restaurants place their menus directly on their websites, and some even include prices. This way you know earlier on what types of food the restaurant serves and what you want to order. A third way is to read the menu at the table on your own. Many restaurants have large print and Braille copies of their menus. If the waiter does not offer it, simply ask for this menu.
If this is your first time dining out since you have lost your vision, you might want to order simple foods that you know you can eat with confidence. You might want to practice eating more difficult foods like soups or spaghetti at home. This way you can master the techniques and then feel better about eating in a public setting. For meats such as chicken, lamb or steak, have the cook cut it up in small bit-size portions before bringing to the table. You can also make special request with the wait staff to help your eating experience be more pleasurable. For example you can request that your salad be cut up in small pieces and served in a bowl instead of on a plate.
Pay attention to when your beverage and food are served. You might want to ask if everyone at your table has received their meal before you begin eating. Request that verbal information be given to you when the food arrives so that you know where things are on the table. For example, asking where the bread basket, drink glasses, extra napkins, or the butter tray is located. Also, during this same time, you can ask for how the food is arranged on your plate.
After enjoying your meal; it is time to pay the bill. When the wait staff brings the receipt have them red the whole thing to you. This will help insure that you know exactly what you are paying for and that the prices are quoted correctly. Using a signature guide can help you sign credit card slips a lot easier. If you don’t have a guide, you can use the edges of your credit card. Have the sighted person place the edge directly above the signature line and sign there.
One last tip for dining out when visually impaired is getting help to your transportation after eating your meal. If you are dining alone, this suggestion can be even more helpful. Ask the wait staff to let you know when your transportation arrives. You can let them know that you are taking a cab, someone pick you up, or using specialized transportation for the disabled. They can look out for you, and even help you to the door to meet your ride.
So, are you ready to go out for a meal? Were these tips helpful in knowing how to dine at restaurants? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share that work for you? Post your comments below and let’s discuss our dining out experiences.