Eating Out Again

Tables on street at New York cafe.

Colliding with café tables and chairs on the sidewalk may have been the closest most of us got to a meal out for the past year. But now you may be sitting at those outdoor tables and indoor ones too. Mask wearing and social distancing are bouncing from absolutely required in some places to completely absent in others.

A day after Maine lifted all requirements, the Macdonalds I went to was still offering drive through only. Thanks to the NFB (National Federation of the Blind) walk-in orders were permitted (but there was nowhere to eat the food.) Burger King next door was offering meals inside but demanding masks. At the cafe I went to in New Hampshire masks seemed to be required indoors but not at outdoor tables.

If you are on your own and the restaurant is nearly empty, the staff and other customers may have time to take an interest in you, but a rushed and pushy crowd is not the best place to get help.

There is the problem of knowing whether the particular café is still maintaining distancing or masks. Calling ahead will take care of the problem, but you don’t always know where you will be when the longing for coffee, ice-cream or pizza strikes.

Then there are people still maintaining social distancing and masks because of fears about compromised immunity or other medical conditions. But how will we know when it’s all being conveyed by visual cues?

It takes confidence to call out into emptiness or a buzz of voices to find out where the line is and how far apart people are standing.

Here’s a section from my book When You Can’t Believe Your Eyes: Vision Loss and Personal Recovery from Chapter 10, “Getting Out On Your Own.” It’s called


 Restaurants can be a treat. You can enjoy the tastes, textures, and aromas of the food sitting at a table with friends, but they are still visual places. Meals out are often eaten at fast-food restaurants, while shopping or traveling. These are even more visual.

Fast-Food Restaurants

Typical fast-food restaurants have menus up on the wall, and the pick-up place—the cups, sodas, and coffee, are spread across the restaurant. The up side is that much of the menu is finger-food. If you are alone, ask the person behind you to help you locate the pick-up spot and the sodas and show you to a table.

Restaurants with Wait Staff

When a meal in a restaurant is a planned event, there is one thing you can do beforehand to increase your enjoyment: Find out what’s on the menu! (It’s no fun having the menu read to you in the restaurant, although this will happen plenty of times.) Go online if you can and check out the menu, or phone the restaurant when the staff won’t be busy.

There are other questions you can ask besides menu options and prices:

  • Are there booths, or tables in a quieter area?
  • Are there any steps in the middle of the restaurant?
  • What is the lighting like? (If you have some sight.)

What to Order

If you don’t get to a restaurant often enough, you will want to order your favorite dish. You can ask the waiter to have the chef cut your steak or whatever off the bone, and sliced into three across, which makes that T-bone a lot easier to cut into bites. You can also ask for side dishes to be served separately. The more skittish items like French fries won’t fly off your plate as you work on the meat or salad. Ask for a knife, even if the food doesn’t need cutting up. A knife (or a bread roll) can act as a blocker so the food goes onto your fork, not the table. Or you can eat around the edges, enjoying the company and the atmosphere, and ask for a take- home bag for the rest.

Menu choices

You may want to choose something that sticks together well and is easy to manage. Thick pieces of meat are easier to get on your fork than thin, slippery ones. Short pasta, like ziti, fit neatly into your mouth unlike dangling spaghetti. And a sauce, maybe with cheese, will help the pasta stick together. In general, short is easier than long. Mashed potatoes are easier than plain rice. Chopped salads are often available and easier to eat neatly than big floppy lettuce leaves. You may want to have the dressing or sauce served separately, so you can deal with the cutting first. This keeps your hands cleaner, but ask for extra napkins anyway.

When you have found a place that works for you and your friends, you might want to return there. You know the menu and can build up friendly relations with the manager and staff.

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