What is a “Sensory Friendly Restaurant?”
Companies and businesses are working to accommodate members of the public who have long been overlooked. People with Autism have long had to exist in a world designed without them in mind. The recent movement towards sensory friendly spaces is an attempt to right past wrongs and create a more inclusive world. Those on the Autism spectrum “process sensory information in a different manner than their neurotypical peers” and could be overwhelmed by outside stimuli.
How do I make my restaurant Sensory-Friendly?
It’s simplest to take this task and break it down sense by sense.
People with sensory differences can experience a high-level of sensitivity to noise. Noises that may seem harmless can be excruciating for people with sensory differences. Simple and sweet, keep the noise down.
Make sure that staff is talking at a low and comfortable volume. Ensure that music is either off or turned down low. If loud music or screaming at patrons is central to your business’s success, consider having a portion of your establishment where you avoid such behavior.
Seemingly small details make the largest differences, consider:
- providing lightweight silverware that won’t “clank” when dropped
- excluding theatric dishes like fajitas from the menu
- politely declining to sing “Happy Birthday” for patrons
For the neurotypical, the sensation of touch may seem like an unflappable and concrete sensation. Consider the irritating tingling that takes place when your arm falls asleep coming and going with no regard. It’s possible for those with sensory touch sensitivity to be both under-sensitive and over-sensitive.
Examples of under-sensitivity to touch would be:
- an inability to feel food in their mouth
- preferring heavy objects
- craving to chew
Examples of over-sensitivity to touch would be:
- mild touch is painful and uncomfortable
- sensitivity to food texture
- dislike of having anything on their hands or feet
It’s pretty standard for a restaurant staff to not touch patrons, so stick by that rule of thumb. This is simply an important issue to be aware of, if you see someone reacting to touch-sensitivity be accommodating and respectful.
Once again, if you provide a sensory-friendly dining area consider having a few dish-washer friendly trinkets or toys on hand for patrons to play with. “Dish-washer friendly” is important, because these trinkets should be washed from use to use.
Restaurants should strive to provide food that is non-offensive to the sense of taste. For people with taste sensitivity, you should provide indicators on your menu to describe how the food tastes. Surprising tastes and textures can be uncomfortable to people with sensory sensitivity. Detailed menu descriptions of tastes and ingredients involved can help make your restaurant more inclusive.
This doesn’t mean that you should shelter anyone whose Autistic from menu options. People with taste sensitivity can still enjoy spicy or hot food without issue from time to time.
First of all, lighting is an important topic for any restaurant. Diners with oppressive fluorescent lights ensure that I’ll never return with my business and inversely, places that are too dark for my Mother to read the menu are equally banished.
Moderation and consistency are key. Focus on making a comfortable and non-cluttered visual setting. Lighting is vastly important for all customers, not everyone loves sunlight pouring into the dining room. Avoid jarring imagery and vibrant colors all together.
It’s important to avoid having a restaurant that smells fowl for more reasons than creating a sensory friendly restaurant. Fortunately most “smell” complaints and triggers for sensory-sensitivities can be attributed to air fresheners and artificial scents. Containing smells in a restaurant is a tall-order, here are some tips to help accommodate people sensitive to smell:
- ensure that grill and fryer vents are clean and up to date
- establish a sensory-friendly section far from the restrooms and kitchen
- warn about abnormally smelly menu items if a sensory issue is raised
- avoid scented sprays
As science advances, society advances with it. We now have a better understanding of what people unlike ourselves are going through in their day to day life and it’s our responsibility to help improve our communities. Providing a sensory-friendly environment for those who need one can change the daily lives of millions of people.
Lastly, if you can afford to make small changes to your establishment to accommodate more people, you should. Many of the tips for a “sensory-friendly restaurant” could be copied and pasted into an article titled “How to improve your restaurant.”
Is your restaurant sensory-friendly? If so, list it with Sensory Friendly Philly.