Five tips to make eating out easier for families with special needs

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Five Tips to Make Eating Out Easier

If your child, parent, or another loved one has a disability, eating out can sometimes be a bit of a challenge. You shouldn’t let the potential challenges stop you from enjoying a delicious meal, though.

Keep these five tips in mind to make eating out as easy and stress-free as possible.

1. Look at the Menu

These days, most restaurants have their menus available online. This allows you to do some research ahead of time and figure out if a specific place offers food that your loved one can easily and safely eat.

When you get to the restaurant, be sure to talk to the server to and make sure they accommodate your requests. Does your parent or child need to avoid gluten or dairy? Do they need vegetables cooked so that they’re extra soft to avoid choking?

Don’t be embarrassed to make these requests. Remember that you and your loved ones have every right to a safe, enjoyable dining experience.

2. Research the Restaurant

Some restaurants are more accessible than others. Do some research online ahead of time and find out what people are saying about the restaurants near you. Do they have ramps and tables that can easily accommodate wheelchairs? Are their waiters and waitresses patient with children who have disabilities?

If you have concerns about accessibility, make a list and call the restaurant ahead of time to clarify everything. You may even want to find out if you can schedule a reservation so that the staff will know you’re coming and will be able to assist you better.

Before choosing a restaurant, make sure to take the serving style into account as well.

Lots of people love buffet-style restaurants because they provide a lot of bang for your buck. The problem, though, is that these kinds of establishments aren’t always ideal for people in wheelchairs or those who use other mobility devices.

It’s usually easier for everyone to opt for a restaurant that will bring food directly to your table.

3. Choose the Right Time

When it comes to eating out with a disabled friend or family member, timing is essential.

If you go to a restaurant during peak hours, it can be difficult to navigate your way through the crowd. You may also have a hard time getting your server’s attention, and your loved one may get overwhelmed easily.

Generally speaking, it’s better to go to a restaurant midweek, when fewer people are eating out. Plan on a late lunch around 2 PM or an early dinner around 4:30 PM.

4. Bring Your Own Utensils

If your loved one needs specially designed dishes or weighted utensils to make eating easier, be sure to bring them with you.

Most restaurants are very understanding and won’t have any problem serving food on the dishes you bring. After all, they want you to have a safe and enjoyable experience while you’re there.

If you happen to visit a restaurant that won’t serve the food on your special dishes, don’t panic. You can always transfer the food to a better dish after it has been served.

If you forget your utensils or dishes, you might want to ask the chef to pre-cut the food before it’s served -- or take the time to cut it yourself. That way, especially if your loved one has Parkinson’s disease or another condition that limits their mobility, they’ll have an easier time getting by with regular silverware.

5. Limit the Size of Your Group

It’s also helpful to keep your group small, especially if you don’t go out to eat often. A party of 12 people can be overwhelming, both for those attending the meal and for those serving you at the restaurant.

Keep the group small by bringing along just your loved one and one or two other friends or family members. This allows you to be more attentive and focus on making sure they have a good experience.

Eating out with a loved one who has a disability doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. Keep these tips in mind as you plan for your next afternoon or evening out and you’ll be all set!

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