Story 6: Candle Light Dinner
He missed her pretty face under the candle light. It embarrassed him that his hands were no longer steady enough to hand her a rose. They both missed eating out, but he would not forget how mortified she was when it took him 10 minutes to stand up to go to the bathroom last time. Tonight, they smiled at each other after the waitress left. She wished there could be more restaurants like this one, where wheelchairs and walkers deserved as much respect as baby trolleys. Of course, the unbreakable utensils also spared them the embarrassment of curious stare.
Once upon a time, the target population was easily identifiable for food and nutrition service advocates: Older individuals who were homebound and/or unable to cook for themselves because of cognitive, financial, physical, residential, and other constraints. What we tend to overlook is the meaning attached to eating. Nobody should be barred from enjoying a nice dinner in public because of illness and disability. How nice would it be if restaurants could set aside a section for people with special needs, a section where you don’t have to worry about being rushed out of the door in an hour, where safer plates are available, where waiters are friendly to people with dementia and other debilitating illness?
One innovative idea about congregate meal sites is to offer meal vouchers redeemable at local restaurants. Not only may this make the experience less stigmatizing, but it can also enhance maximum utility of restaurant amenities and human resources. After all, who would be better trained than restaurant chefs and waiters in preparing and serving food? Now the question becomes: Can we foster a safe and senior-friendly environment in for-profit restaurants?