I worked in the restaurant industry for many years as a hostess as well as a waitress. I recently observed a family out at dinner on a Saturday night. After seeing some of the behaviors of their son and hearing some feedback from their waiter, it became obvious to me that this family had a child with special needs. Shortly after ordering food, the family had to request that their food be boxed up to take home instead of eating at the restaurant. I found this to be very unfortunate, as there were many actions the restaurant could have taken to accommodate this family’s needs.
Eating out at a restaurant is like participating in a dance. Everyone needs to know the right steps to make the dance smooth and make sure no one’s toes are stepped on. What diners don’t understand is that they are very much a part of this dance. Typically, waiters are able to read their tables and determine their needs. As a server, I am able to determine the timing and tempo desired by diners and make sure their food is delivered appropriately. Knowing what accommodations you can ask for is important.
The following tips will better prepare you to make the requests you need. A restaurant staff should be able to accommodate these needs no matter what time of day:
Know the menu
Before going out to a restaurant, look at possible food items you would like to order. You do not need to pre-order your food as cravings change when you get to the restaurant, but becoming familiar with the available foods will help make an order quicker. This can also assist in talking to your children about the restaurant. They could choose what they want to eat and become excited about going! It will also make an unfamiliar environment feel more familiar.
Request a quiet table
Request a table in a quiet area that has some space for movement. Try to avoid tables in the middle of dining areas or ones that are far from the exit or bathroom.
Call ahead and ask about existing reservations
Parties of 15 or more tend to be very loud and take up a lot of the dining space. Avoid going to restaurants during the time of the party. Once my restaurant had a reservation for 70 people! It took up the entire dining space. Also, the time it takes for the kitchen to prepare the food was extended for other diners in the restaurant at that time. From the time the waiters placed the food order, it took the kitchen one full hour to make it!
Order everything all at once
Order your drinks and food all at the same time. Waiters control the pace of your meal and how soon your food arrives. Let your waiter know what your dining experience looks like. Do you want your food all at once? Do you want your child’s food first? If you need your meal fast, just inform them and they can make it happen. Restaurants are able to deliver food within 10-12 minutes of ordering, maybe sooner.
Tell your waiter about your child’s needs
Be an advocate for your child. Create a “menu” of your child’s needs before going to the restaurant. For example, you can say, “my name is _____. I like to have my food delivered quickly. When this does not happen, I can become upset. When I am upset, it may look like this_______.” By doing this, your waiter will understand your child’s needs and can work to have them met. This also helps further prepare your child for going out to eat.
Bring tabletop activities for your child to enjoy while waiting for the food to be delivered. Perhaps ask for a table with extra space so that there is plenty of room on the table for cups, plates, and activities. Also, talk with your child ahead of time about the restaurant experience. Create a visual schedule to follow and label the dining expectations. First, we sit down, then the server takes our order, then we receive our drinks, then we color/read/watch a show for a certain amount of time ( you can ask your server how long the food will take), then we receive our food, and finally we eat.
Knowing what accommodations you can ask for is important. By knowing these tips, you will be better prepared to make the requests you need to make your “dance” smooth.