When you have aphasia, going out to eat is about more than just filling your stomach. Whether you’re sharing a meal with friends or just grabbing a quick lunch for yourself, communication is a big part of the equation. You’ll need to be able to communicate with your waiter or other restaurant staff. However, with a little preparation and practice, you can feel comfortable communicating on your own in a restaurant. Because it is a predictable communication exchange, it is also a great place to practice communicating with new people! Here are some tips to make eating out a success:
Decide where to eat
Decide in advance where you will go, and look up the menu online if possible. Chain restaurants are more likely to keep current menus online, so choose a well-known establishment if possible. Decide in advance what you want to eat. If the restaurant does not have a menu online, you can still make a good guess. For instance, if you are going to a Mexican restaurant, it’s a safe bet they’ll have beef tacos.
Plan a script
Plan ahead for what you’ll need to say. Eating at a restaurant follows a typical “script,” meaning that the same types of questions and comments are usually used.
If you are eating at a sit-down restaurant with a friend, your side of the “script” might be:
“A table for two, please.”
“I’ll have a glass of chardonnay.”
“I’d like the lasagna, please.”
“Yes, I’m all done. Can I get a box?”
“We’d like the check, please.”
However, the script might look very different if you’re ordering a sandwich in a deli. Phrases you’ll need might include:
“I’d like a large turkey sandwich please.”
“I want mayonnaise and mustard.”
“I’d like lettuce, tomato and onion.”
“I’d like a bottled water, please.”
Once you’ve thought about the script, prepare and practice.
If you are communicating verbally, write out what you plan to say. If reading and writing are difficult, you can use pictures to remind yourself what to say next.
If you are using AAC, make sure to add the needed icons and phrases to your device ahead of time.
Practice with role play
Role play with a family member or your speech-language pathologist. Practicing several times will help your brain to improve at the skill you are practicing.
Have a back-up plan
If you communicate by speaking, carry an aphasia ID card to let your communication partner know you need extra time. Put key phrases and ideas in writing that you can read off of or show to your communication partner if needed. If you are using AAC, be sure to have cards or icons created explaining that you have aphasia and what that means.
Decide in advance what you will do if you are not able to communicate your message. Is there a family member who can provide assistance? Create a cue you can give them if you want them to take over. If you’re on your own, will you leave and try a different restaurant next door? What if your message is only partially understood – is that good enough? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, but it can help you feel ready if you have a plan in advance.
Using these tips can help you feel comfortable and independent to order food. Invite a friend out to lunch and give them a try!