People sitting at a table for dinner together

Eating Out

As I’ve gotten older and my disease, spinal muscular atrophy, has progressed a little more, eating out started to become more of a daunting task. However, it’s really important to a person's social life, so I didn’t stop eating out.

As I’ve gotten older and my body has changed, it has slowly gotten harder for me to do things on my own. Here is some advice for my learned experience of eating out in a restaurant.

Call ahead to check accessibility at the restaurant

First thing’s first, priority number one is to make sure you call ahead to ensure the restaurant is accessible. I need to know if I will be able to get in, in the first place. Then you can go from there!

You may be thinking "it’s 2022, every restaurant is accessible!" Oh if only if only. I have found that there are still many places in older cities that are not wheelchair accessible and are not required to do so.

But whether the front door has a step or not is not the only factor I consider when thinking of accessibility. I've been to places that are so crowded, overwhelmingly so. If this is the case, where it is difficult enough for a person without a wheelchair to squeeze through the tight spaces, then the restaurant may not be a viable option for me.

I also don’t prefer to have to rearrange the entire restaurant in order to get to my table so sometimes I request simpler seating arrangements.

Help with heavy cutlery and other items

Once you’re in the restaurant, you never know what you’ll encounter, but I’ve had experiences where I actually cannot lift my fork or spoon because the cutlery is too heavy. Bringing your own silverware might be a good option. At least have some on hand for a backup!

Further, invite people that you are comfortable to help you. People you feel safe to pick up your water, and even help you eat if needed.

Order items that are easier to eat

Now, if you are attending somewhere for a work event and you do not feel comfortable asking for help, order something you know you can eat self-sufficiently. For instance, fries. One of my personal favorite side items, they are lightweight and easy to grab and don't put a strain on me to lift high.

A not-so-good item is a soup; while it is delicious, it can be super impractical, hard to lift, and difficult to stay prim and proper while eating. Eating soup neatly is a hard task anyway.

Ask for items to be cut smaller

Also, whenever I’m eating somewhere, I ask for things extra cut, like meat, sushi, and sandwiches. I always ask the server to have it cut small. Even at Chipotle, I ask the chef to cut my steak smaller.

Friends, ultimately I want to encourage you that there’s no wrong way to do it. I never want you to feel like you can’t go out and enjoy meals with friends.

It’s okay to ask for straws or styrofoam cups. Don't get overwhelmed, seek the help you need, and enjoy being out in public eating a meal if that is what you desire no matter what accommodations you need. It’s not an inconvenience.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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