Going out to dinner can be challenging around the holidays — cranky kids, feisty family, out-of-town visitors with strange cravings.
It’s even tougher when a loved one is afflicted with an issue like Alzheimer’s, autism, dementia, or hearing loss.
That’s why Jen Apazidis, co-owner of Acton’s Red Raven gastropub, launched the Purple Table restaurant reservation program. Customers can make reservations through the website (www.purpletables.com) at participating restaurants.
By reserving though Purple Table, diners know that a restaurant is sympathetic to special circumstances and that a meal will unfold predictably, without long waits or surprises. Training materials for staffers come from Purple Table through resources from groups like Autism Speaks and Dementia Friendly America.
It’s a personal issue for Apazidis, whose mother died of early onset Alzheimer’s. Apazidis hosts monthly luncheons at the Red Raven for dementia patients and their caregivers. Recently, the mother of a child with autism approached her, wanting to host a birthday dinner for her husband, but she was nervous.
“She said, ‘We need to get through dinner in an hour.’ The server and I got together, figured out how to approach the table, and they were there for four hours,” Apazidis says. “I thought, ‘If only we could do this for other people.’ ”
Purple Table staffers are trained in empathy. They learn best practices to accommodate guests, whether that means picking up on social cues, seating them in a quiet area, speaking clearly and explaining a menu slowly, or fulfilling requests without asking questions — such as not allowing foods on a dish to touch one another. Most Purple Table seats have one server to keep sensory overload to a minimum. If an outing needs to end quickly, staffers are prepared to quickly fetch a check.
Now, restaurants like Burlington’s Island Creek Oyster Bar and Acton’s Rapscallion Table & Tap have signed up. Apazidis says she’s gotten inquiries from diners nationwide looking for participating restaurants, and she typically fields roughly three reservation requests per week.
“Purple Table makes servers more empathetic, and it helps more people in the community to eat out,” she says.