Tips for Dining Out

You’ve been invited for dinner at a restaurant and you’re worried you won’t be able to hear anything.  In fact, you’re so worried that you’re in a complete dither and thinking about cancelling.  Last time you dined out was a disaster – you felt like a fool because you had to ask for things to be repeated, the waiter treated you like an imbecile, your friends were frustrated because you couldn’t understand what they were saying.  And that was just the first ten minutes of your evening out and you hadn’t even eaten anything yet!

But wait – don’t cancel.  There are things you can do to help improve your experience this time.

Most important is understanding your own hearing needs, and ensuring that your friends realize the challenges you face.  You need to talk to them ahead of time so they are prepared to help.  If they have chosen a place that’s particularly noisy and you know you won’t be able to hear, you could ask them to consider another location.  If this isn’t possible and you still want to go, be practical – take along a pad and pencil so people can write down anything that you’re unable to pick up through your hearing aid, ALD or speechreading.  You’ll be impressed at how willing most people can be to help if they understand you needs.  But you also need to realize that there will always be some people who just don’t get it, and there’s nothing you can do to change them.  If you accept the fact that you may miss some of the conversation, then you’ll be more relaxed and enjoy the parts that you do get.

If possible, check out the location ahead of time and reserve a table that allows you the best hearing environment available – for example, not near noisy high-traffic areas such as the kitchen, front entrance or cash-register.  It’s also helpful to be in a well lighted area so that you can speech-read – remember, if the light is behind the person you are talking to, their face is in shadow and harder to see.

If you visit the restaurant before your dinner-event, ask for a copy of the menu so you can decide what to order ahead of time.  This is an excellent way to avoid a stressful situation on the actual day.  Many establishments provide their menus on-line as well, and may even show the layout of the dining area so that you can choose an optimum location without making a personal visit.

Check with the restaurant ahead of time to find out if they are expecting any large parties on the day of your visit.  This gives you an opportunity to request a table as far away from the large (and probably noisy) group as possible, or to consider a different day for your own event.

Be up-front about your needs – tell the server that you are hard of hearing and ask him or her to speak slowly and clearly.  If it’s any consolation, a lot of people with excellent hearing also find it difficult to understand servers who mindlessly rattle off their list of daily specials!  You may wish to show the server a “CommuniCard” or similar list that provides the basics for communicating with a hard of hearing person.  This is a way of validating your hearing needs without implying that you are criticizing the server.

Here’s a check-list of things to consider when planning to dine out:

Element Good Fair Poor
General noise level (clatter)      
Background music level      
Availability of private rooms      
Sensitivity of staff      
Reservations accepted
Least busy time

Remember, everyone’s needs are different – a person who has lost virtually all hearing may not mind being in a noisy busy place, where another person with a mild loss or someone who uses hearing aids may find superfluous noise to be highly irksome.  Learning what works for you, and educating your friends and family about your needs will go a long way to improve your social experiences.  Bon appetit!