When you ask people with untreated hearing loss what situations are most difficult for communication, one place stands out among the rest: a restaurant. Although some restaurants are navigable, particularly at off-peak hours or in smaller, casual settings, others offer a combination of difficulties for the communication process. Many people with hearing loss have trouble differentiating one voice from another. When there are voices in the background, it can be difficult to discern those sounds from the voice of a person in close proximity. When you add high echoing ceilings, reverberant hard surfaces, the noise from the kitchen, and background music, the sonic environment can be quite challenging. Not only is this soundscape difficult to navigate, but the social environment often expects a person with hearing loss to respond to others at the table and to questions from a server, as well. With this difficult situation in mind, it is important that you look ahead and offer your support to the person with hearing loss before that perfect storm gathers in the restaurant. Preparing for your meal and offering your support in the moment are great ways to facilitate an enjoyable experience for your loved one with hearing loss and all the others in your group.
Preparing for Your Meal
Before you go to the restaurant, there are a few simple steps you can take to make the experience more enjoyable for everyone. First of all, try to make a reservation, if possible. When you do so, you can secure a time that is the least busy and a table that is as quiet as possible. Trust the expertise of the host or hostess when you call ahead. This person will know the dynamics of peak hours in the course of a day or week and will know if there is a table that is tucked away in a quiet location compared to the others. Communal “family-style” tables can be the most challenging, so you can ask for a place to eat that is set apart from the rest of the diners, if possible. Once you have a good sense of the reservation, you can help your loved one with hearing loss make some choices about the menu. Rather than leaving these decisions up to a conversation with the server, you can see if options, specials, and dietary restrictions are accommodated ahead of time, reducing the potential for back-and-forth.
Offering Your Support
Once you arrive at the restaurant, you are in the position to make the visit as enjoyable as possible for everyone involved. Seating arrangements are paramount among the dynamics that make communication easier or more difficult. If you can seat your loved one with hearing loss in the center of the group, the distance to any given speaker will be as short as possible. Sitting at the end of a table is a worst-case scenario for conversation. When the server comes to take your orders, you are in a position to offer careful support, as well. Don’t speak for your loved one unless they ask you to, but you might want to relay any questions from the server to your loved one at a closer distance. When options, such as dessert, arise, you will be there to make sure your loved one understands what is going on and to explain any decisions to be made.
Encouraging a Hearing Exam
Offering your support and coordinating the resources of the restaurant are great ways to help your loved one with hearing loss, but they will not solve the underlying issue. Despite your best efforts, you might find yourself in a place next time that is even more challenging for communication. Encouraging a hearing exam is the only way to help solve the underlying issue of hearing loss. By getting a thorough diagnosis, our team of hearing health professionals will be able to recommend the right hearing aids for your loved one. With this assistive technology in place during your next meal at a restaurant, your loved one will have the best opportunity for communication and to enjoy the experience of the meal. Why not encourage a hearing test right away? With hearing aids in place, your next meal at a restaurant can be enjoyable for everyone.