Going to a Restaurant or Café

As with any community trip with a child or young person with autism, going to a restaurant can be an anxious time for all.

To support the child or young person, preparation is key.  This should be done before the trip so the individual with autism is aware of the sights, sounds and smells they may encounter and what will be required of them.   For example, ordering their food and waiting patiently for it to arrive.

For additional tips on prior preparations

For information about the olfactory system and how it affects eating in school dining halls or restaurants, click here.

Visual instructions and social narratives can be used to prepare the young person and reduce their anxiety about the outing. The visual instructions can either include symbols or photographs (if possible make the photographs specific to the restaurant you are going to and this will make the outing more predictable).

There are a number of skills involved when visiting a restaurant for example:

  • Expressive and receptive communication when ordering food.
  • Emotional regulation when they may become anxious due to noise of others conversing, background music or equipment in the restaurant.
  • Social skills when engaging with other people.
  • Life skills such as sitting at the table, table manners and going to the bathroom.

These skills can be explored in the classroom and home environment but it is advisable to practice the skills individually before going to a restaurant for the first time.

For example, having visitors in the home environment will provide an opportunity to practice sitting patiently and eating at the table. Using role plays for ordering food in the classroom will make the routine more predictable as the individual will be more aware of the questions they may be asked and how to respond. Using a visual schedule will ensure that the individual will understand what will happen during the visit. You may also wish to use a reward chart whereby they can work towards a personally selected reward during the visit if they are able to complete all the required steps.

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A range of useful resources are shown/ listed below:

Points to remember

  • Having a small selection of fidget toys or items of interest to the young person such as an iPad, note pad to draw in or book to read while they waiting may be helpful.