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Visual Impairment Tips: How to Order at a restaurant

Ordering in a restaurant does not rank very high on the list of problems you have if you’re blind, but it can be both annoying and a bit frustrating at times. Fortunately, there are only a few things to keep in mind when trying to minimize problems.

The menu. While it’s nice if you’re lucky and the restaurant has a Braille or large print menu, the chances of that happening, at least in my experience, are relatively small. I never worry about this or make a big deal about it. Usually, if they have one, they’ll bring it without you asking. The server is pleased that they’re able to do this, even though the items on the menu and the prices are frequently a year or two out of date.

Ordering. All that is involved here is deciding what you want and doing it as quickly as possible and with a minimum of inconvenience to the other people at the table. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve been with someone else who is blind only to have them ask someone to read the entire menu, item by item. It seems to me that there are quicker and more convenient ways to order without inconveniencing the server and the rest of your party.

  • What do you recommend? Sometimes, simply asking the server what they recommend will present an option that sounds just right, and you’ve short-circuited the entire process. Every once in a while, a really sharp server, realizing that their tip is partially dependent on the size of the bill, will recommend the most expensive thing on the menu, but this is relatively rare; and, if you never eat in five star restaurants, you’ll probably never have to worry about this.

What did you like? Similarly, you might begin by asking others in your party if they have ever been to the restaurant before and, if so, what did they like. If they recommend the pheasant under glass with the caviar and this is just what you are in the mood for, problem solved.

  • Reading the menu. Most of us usually have a pretty good idea of what we’re in the mood for when we go to a restaurant. If someone else is nice enough to assist with the reading of the menu, I always try to simplify things by asking them to read only those portions I might be interested in: “What kind of steaks do they have? Or “Do they have burgers?” Sometimes, the process can be even more carefully targeted. While I like fish, I know I’ll be most interested in shrimp, salmon, and crab and so may just ask if these are on the menu. At this point, if I’m interested in a particular item, I can then ask to hear the details I’m interested in: “What sides come with that?; “Can you tell if that is filleted?”

What do you want? One final thing is worth special mention: the actual ordering. Frequently, servers will not speak as they go around the table for orders. They simply signal with their eyes that they are ready for the next person to speak. While this is something that is common in the sighted world, it is very difficult to gage if you can’t see when the other person is doing this. You can make a best guess as to when the server might be ready by waiting what you judge is an appropriate time after the person beside you has completed their order. Sometimes this works, but, frequently when I try this, it seems that the server has a last-minute, unanticipated question of the other person in our party. Of course, the ideal solution is for the person next to you to be astute enough to prompt you by asking, “And, Bob, what are you going to have?” when they can see that the server is ready to take your order. Clueing in good friends and family members to this trick not only helps you but also makes the process more convenient for everyone involved.

Hopefully, these suggestions will make the restaurant experience a bit less frustrating and a lot more pleasurable.

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