Eateries (e.g. Restaurants and Cafés)

Image of an empty restaurant. six square tables made of black wood are visible, each with four chairs around them. They all have menus and a small plant on each table as well as salt and pepper. In the background a bar and fridges are visible

“I feel like a lot of restaurants and eateries and stuff have like one opinion of disability and it’s that they need to have a wheelchair accessible toilet… I feel like a lot of them don’t have any idea of how to help someone with ASD…”

“I never go out to eat anymore. The environment is just too loud. The layering of noises, such as people chatting on top of coffee machines or plates clashing is really difficult”

focus group participants

People in our focus groups identified that eateries (e.g. restaurants, pubs and cafés) can be challenging due to the layered and multisensory input. In particular, people identified that the intense smell of coffee and sound of coffee machines can make certain cafes less accessible. People also reported that the amount of background noise, such as other people talking and background music can make eateries more difficult as well as those with bright lighting. Places where there is more space between the tables or there are booths can be more accessible as it can reduce the intensity of the nearby sounds. People identified that it would be helpful if eateries could have dedicated areas with a reduced sensory input such as being quieter or where the tables were spaced further apart.

Having information in advance, such as access to menus online as well as images and details about the layout of the venue can help to make it more accessible, as can information about how the venue works (such as how to find a table, order food or pay the bill). People identified that the consistency and predictability of food and drinks is important and can make certain venues (especially chain restaurants) more accessible. This is because some people can find certain tastes, textures or temperatures difficult to cope with which can make ordering new foods more challenging as well as when eateries unexpectedly change the ingredients of established items. People often feel worried about being judged by staff for being a ‘picky eater’ or ‘awkward’ due to their sensory needs, especially if they don’t have someone with them who can support them or help to explain.

Eateries are often fast paced locations which can make it hard for people to take their time to process different information. They suggested that it might be helpful for eateries to have systems so that you could identify whether you would benefit from extra support for sensory needs, such as a sign that could be placed on the table. People identified that adjustments such as being able to use apps to order their food can make locations more accessible. They reported that it was helpful when apps have the option to give details and customise their food/drink options where possible to meet their sensory needs.

Questions for businesses and organisations to think about:

  • How close together are the tables/chairs in the seating area of your location?  Do you have any tables that are further apart or booths which people could choose/request to sit in? Is it possible to book these quieter spaces specifically in advance?
  • Do you have information about your eatery available online for people to look at in advance? Does it include information about what a person can expect to do (e.g. how to order food) and a menu?
  • If you change the ingredients or items on your menu, is this information available online?
  • Do your staff have any training about autism and sensory processing difficulties? Is this information specifically tailored to your space and potentially challenging inputs in your location?
  • Do staff feel confident in knowing what accommodations they can make to support autistic people? (e.g. seating them in different locations within a restaurant or using an app to order/pay)?
  • Do you have any times when your location is more accessible for autistic people (e.g. when the lights are dimmer or background music is quieter)? Can people book these times specifically? Is information about these available online?
  • Do you have a way that individuals who visit your space can indicate whether they may need additional support for their sensory needs such as a sign on the table)? Can staff recognize this? Can people mention this when making a booking?
  • Is it possible to have times when potentially aversive inputs could be reduced such as times when the coffee machine is not running or you use a coffee machine in the back of the store? Are these times available for people to book and is information about them available on your website?

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