(Autism) Dining Out

Ever since i was a toddler, dining out has always been difficult. My parents regale me on the terror of taking me out to a restaurant or cafe. Allegedly, i howled the place down, threw things around and refused to eat anything.

This difficulty somewhat stayed with me as a child, teenager and young adult. I couldn’t eat in public as a child, at all. I didn’t feel comfortable. As a teenager, this got better through being with my peers. I ate a little, sticking to foods that i was used to. But again, it wasn’t proper dinner food. For many years, wherever i went, i would just order a bowl of chips. And a drink. And that was it, occasionally some ice cream if i was in a place i was comfortable and fancied ice cream.

As a young adult, i took a backwards turn and avoided at all costs, eating out. This became less about the food, but about the places i dined in. These places, were noisy, loud and bright. But the worst part was the people.

I was very self conscious of other people, and felt their eyes on me all the time. Even though, in hindsight, most likely no one noticed me as much as i thought they did at the time, but such is life. My biggest bug bear, which is still problematic even now, is staff members talking to me while i’m eating. I know this annoys a lot of people anyway, whether you’re neuro-divergent or neurotypical. But for people on the autistic spectrum, eating out at the best of times is still tricky, because so much is going on around us that we’re hyper aware of, the last thing we want is then someone to actually come over, that we don’t know and try and make small talk with us. Small talk is the worst at any case of time!! I know employers encourage their staff to do this, promoting it as good customer service. But i think i speak for nearly all of us when i say, please let this practice die.

Choosing Where To Go

It can depend on how well i know a person, as to where i would feel comfortable in going. So for example, if i haven’t known you very long or its our first meeting, then a coffee shop would be the way to go, or even going through a drive thru and eating in the car, parked up somewhere.

Why?

It cuts out some of the hyper awareness. I’m nervous around people i don’t know that well or meeting someone for the first time. This can make the act of eating difficult in itself. So i will stick to drinks, or to small amounts of food i’m comfortable with. This cuts down some of the nervousness. And also means i will be in places that typically will be quieter and with softer light levels. This means i will be more relaxed. Brownie points for good taste in car music by the way!

Fast Food, Yes Please. 

This is something that can be quite difficult in broaching with someone, because of the connotations that can come with it. Fast food places are seen as tacky, cheap and really unhealthy. And yes i agree with that. But my diet allows me to be able to have fast food and it won’t cause any problems, as i have a healthy diet the rest of the time.

Fast food, is a comfort food. They also tend to be quite bland, and consistent from place to place in the same chain. Bland and consistency in food, is good by me! I have very sensitive sense of taste, so there are some foods that would cause an adverse reaction when eaten. This could be, feeling sick or burning of the tongue. It’s normally one of those two things. Consequently i’m not very adventurous with my food. In the past, people have called me boring for it. But that’s just them showing their ignorance.

I do stick to things i know, and many of my family members and friends joke that i always order the same thing every time i visit a place. Or even if i go to somewhere different, i will order the same similar things.

Preparation

If I’ve been asked to attend some restaurant I’ve never been to before, i check the restaurants website before giving a confirmation whether i can or not.

Before the wonders of the smartphone, going somewhere new was always avoided with a resounding ‘no!’. But i do try to branch out and give different restaurants a try. Variety is the spice of life. But it has to be on my own terms. Which means no coercing, forcing, pressuring or guilt tripping me into going somewhere i don’t want to go.

Being able to look at a restaurants website, gives me an insight into what the place looks like inside and the type of food they serve. Having a menu on their sight is crucial, because it allows me to check what to order before i attend. That way i can know whether there’s something i can eat on there or not.

Long time ago, there had been times where i wasn’t able to do that. And has gone to places and felt deeply uncomfortable, and then have a full blown panic attack because there had been literally nothing on the menu i could eat. This was made worse when the other person is bemused by this and keeps asking if ‘i’m sure there’s NOTHING on the menu, there’s loads to choose from’. Yes i can see that, i can read and choose for myself. The ending to these escapades always ends the same, i sit there with a drink, while they sit there with their meal feeling an awkward kind of resentment. How dare i be so picking(!)

When things go wrong

Sometimes things can go wrong. Either it’s packed and i don’t feel comfortable because its too noisy and crowded or the thing i was going to order, they’ve run out of and there’s nothing else i can order instead. Sometimes it can even be that they thing I’ve ordered, i don’t actually like once I’ve tried it. Case in point where a few months ago, i went to an Indian restaurant with a friend of mine and ordered chicken korma. I normally have chicken korma with my mum from Tesco on a Friday that we cook at my parents, and its very tasty. So ordering the korma felt like a good safe option. Except it tasted nothing like what i normally have from Tesco. It wasn’t even slightly different, it was COMPLETELY different. I salvaged what i could by eating all the meat, but that still left me with a plate of sauce and bowl of rice…and the garlic naan bread, which again i normally have, but in this case was very different and not very nice. My friend tried it and insisted that there was nothing wrong with it, and it tasted like a typical korma, blah blah, etc. But that doesn’t matter. Upon saying stuff like that just makes me feel worse and like my judgement, opinion and feelings are invalid in that situation. And that’s unfair. If i don’t like something, be supportive and be clear that it’s not a problem. And then just leave it. Or eat it yourself lol.

It’s also an idea to have a back up plan, in case plans change. Somewhere else we can go instead, somewhere i know and comfortable in. Trying new things can be nice, but sometimes things crop up and i need to go somewhere else.

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