Food & dining

Purple Table helps families with special needs eat out

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.

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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.

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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.

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“Purple Table makes servers more empathetic, and it helps more people in the community to eat out,” she says.

KARA BASKIN