Eating in and dining out
Sometimes eating and dining out with sight loss can be challenging, but with a bit of planning and the right techniques it doesn't have to be. We’ve put together some suggestions that will help reduce stress or anxiety when it comes to mealtimes.
Setting the table
Have a set place at the table with the crockery and cutlery laid out in a way you’re familiar and happy with. For example, you might keep the condiments in front of you with the salt pot always to your left and pepper pot always to your right.
If you’re able to, lay the table yourself. This will help you to build a mental image of the layout, so you know exactly where everything you need is. Simply put … lay it as it works for you! If there are other people in your household, ask them not to move or rearrange your table setting.
If someone else has set the table, allow yourself time to become familiar with the layout. Using the systematic search method will help.
If the meal is being prepared for you, ask what you’ll be eating in advance. This gives you time to consider the skills and equipment you may need.
A Dycem mat is useful to help secure your plate and/or glass and, if you have some remaining vision, may help with improving contrast.
Using lighting if you have remaining vision
- Consider your seating position at the table and where you’ll be able to see the best. For example, if you’re sensitive to glare, avoid facing the window with direct sunlight coming through. Sitting with your back to natural light may help as the light can filter in and help you see better.
- You might want to place a task light on the table as that will illuminate a particular area.
Using contrast if you have remaining vision
Contrast can often get forgotten but making small changes to the colour of your placemat, plate, cutlery, cup or glass can make a big difference.
- If your table is dark, use a light or brightly coloured placemat as this could help you see where it is.
- Think about the colour of the food you’ll be eating off the plate. For example, a piece of chicken and salad works well on a dark plate.
- Cutlery with coloured handles is readily available and may be helpful.
- Avoid using patterned tablecloths or plates to help things stand out more.
Plating up your food
Consider the type of dish you’ll need for each meal. You might find it easier to use a bowl rather than a plate, or a plate with a decent raised edge. You can also buy plate guards, which prevent food being pushed off your plate as it gets pushed against the guard onto your cutlery.
If you can, dish your food up yourself. This way you know exactly where everything is on your plate and the portion size.
If someone has dished up your food for you, ask them to present the familiar foods you eat in a set place. For example, meat is best positioned nearest to you, as this saves you having to reach across other foods to cut it up.
Ask the person who has served your food to describe where the different food items are. They could use either the clock face or use north, south, east and west. For example, your meat is at six o’clock, vegetables are at nine o’clock and potatoes are at three o’clock.
Getting ready to eat
Sit facing the table, with your feet placed firmly on the floor, and with your placemat right in front of you. Using a square or rectangular placemat can help keep you in alignment.
Holding your knife and fork lower down the handle can help you keep control of them. With the fork, try placing your index finger over the prongs so your fingertip can discreetly touch and feel the food.
Consider the type and size of cutlery you’re using. You may find handling cutlery that is weighted and/or has a wide grip handle, easier.
During the meal, keep your hands and arms low at the table, so that you don’t knock items over.
To check the knife blade is facing downwards, hold the knife against the edge of the plate or fork and gently run the knife along, as if trying to cut the plate. You’ll feel or hear the serrated surface running over the plate. Avoid using your fingers!
Although you can ask someone to describe where the food is on your plate, we’d recommend checking for yourself. You can do this by using the tip of your knife and fork, working systematically to ensure you have covered all of the plate.
Your knife is a great tool to help you get food onto your fork. Hold the knife against the edge of the plate opposite to where you’re scooping with your fork, then push food with your knife to your fork. Alternatively, use the knife and fork together, pushing towards each other.
To cut your food, some people like to use a method called grid cutting. This is where you start at the back of the plate and systematically cut across to the front of the plate. You then turn the plate a quarter turn and make the same actions again until all your food is cut up. This is a useful technique for cutting spaghetti.
Before you go
Thinking ahead when dining out is the key to an enjoyable and relaxing meal. You could phone the restaurant, tell them about your vision impairment and discuss with them anything they could do to make things easier for you. For example, where would you like to sit – away from direct light or in a well-illuminated area? You could also let them know if you have a guide dog.
Dining tables are often positioned close together and this can heighten anxiety when having to negotiate through them. When making the booking, request a table away from where people will be walking, especially if you have a guide dog.
You might want to look at the restaurant’s website before visiting. It can often give you a feel for the place and, if you have any remaining vision, you can look at any gallery pictures to get an idea of the layout. If you look at the menu, you can have a think about what you might like to eat and the skills you’ll need for eating that particular dish.
When you arrive
Entering a dimly lit restaurant may cause your vision to fluctuate and it may take some time to adapt. Consider how long you’ll need to allow for your eyes to adjust and any additional support you may need. If you have some remaining vision but the lighting is dim, this may affect your ability to move around safely. If you’re with someone, consider using them as a sighted guide.
Try to orientate yourself with the surroundings; you may find it helpful to ask someone to give you a verbal description of where to find key points such as the bar or toilets.
If you want to order a drink on arrival, ask the waiter to serve you at your table. That way you won’t have to walk from the bar to the table or have to walk carrying a drink.
Ask if the restaurant has the menu in your preferred format. Or, you may prefer to use your mobile phone and assistive technology to see this information by:
At the table
Once you’re seated at the table, just as you would at home, use systematic search patterns to explore the table setting. You can always ask someone to describe the table layout as well.
For some, ordering food can be an anxious time. They’ll often choose the first dish on the menu to hurry things along or feel too embarrassed to ask any questions. Remember, staff in the restaurant are there to make your visit enjoyable and relaxing, so be confident and tell them what you need. For example, if you fancy a particular item on the menu but know you’ll have difficulty eating it without help, ask for the food to be cut up before it’s brought to your table.
It’s also a good idea to ask staff how the dish is presented, especially as many restaurants serve food on slate plates, which could result in food sliding off and spillages.