Valentine’s Day is almost here and love is in the air. You can express love through a romantic dining experience at a nice restaurant with the special person in your life. Dining out, overall, has become a major part of American culture and social life. Today, people dine alone, with friends or family more often than they eat at home. It can be relaxing, enjoyable and even entertaining but with a visual impairment, it might be stressful and frustrating. Not being able to see the table setting, flag down the waiter, read the menus clearly or determine the food items on your plate can create anxiety and frustration. Mastering some simple rules of thumb prior to Valentine’s Day will help ease stress levels and make eating your meal with your sweetheart relaxing and enjoyable.
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. Request to sit at a table for four or a large booth near the door or at the back of the restaurant. This will ensure you sit in a place that is comfortable.
Once you arrive at your table, ask your guide to place your hand on the back of your chair. This will help you know the position of the chair and table. Also, ask about table settings. For example, where the silverware, condiments and menus are located. Explore your table setting by gently placing your hands on the tabletop and sliding them around the table to locate these items.
Consider these options for accessing the menu. Ask your server or companion to read the menu at your table. Think about what you want to eat – fish, steak, hamburgers, veggie plate, salad, etc. This will help the person reading the menu to target specific areas, versus trying to read the entire menu. You may also be able to access the menu on the restaurant’s website via your smartphone. Today, many restaurants put their menus online and some of them even include prices. You can also read the menu at the table on your own; many restaurants have large print and braille menus for people with visual impairment. Simply ask your server if one of these menus is available.
If this is your first time dining out since you have a visual impairment, you might want to order simple foods that you can eat with confidence. Practice eating more difficult foods like soups or spaghetti at home. This way you can master the techniques and feel better about eating in a public setting. For meats such as chicken, lamb or steak, have the cook cut it up in small bite-size portions before bringing to the table. Make special requests with the wait staff to help your eating experience be more pleasurable. For example, you can ask that your salad be chopped up and served in a bowl instead of on a plate.
Pay attention to when your beverage and food are served. Ask if everyone at your table has received their meal before you begin eating. Request verbal information when the food arrives to help you find things on the table. For example, ask about the bread basket, the drink glasses, extra napkins or the butter tray. Also, during this same time, you can ask for how the food is arranged on your plate.
After enjoying the meal; it is time to pay the bill. Ask the server to read your receipt to help ensure that you know exactly what you are paying for and that the prices are quoted correctly. Using a signature guide or the edges of a credit card can help you sign the receipt easier.
Implementing these tips will not only enhance your dining experience but ensure that you and your sweetie have a lovely and memorable Valentine’s Day.