FALL RIVER — Dining out is so much more than a meal. It’s all about the experience.
Some chefs in training at Diman Regional Vocational-Technical High School are learning early on to cater to their customers’ needs, including those with dementia, autism, hearing loss, vision loss and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The culinary students were certified in the Purple Table Reservation program recently, which has made Room 251, the public dining room at Diman, one of just three restaurants in the area to have completed it.
“It gives the students a good experience going out into the world,” said Jeanna DaCosta, Dementia Friendly coordinator for Bristol Elder Services, an ambassador of the Purple Table program.
Room 251 joins Ma Raffa’s of Somerset and the Galley Grille at White’s of Westport in accepting Purple Table reservations, a designation that means staff members have been trained to accommodate people with physical and cognitive conditions so they can enjoy dining out like everyone else.
“I thought there should be more places doing that,” said Diman student Faith Brandis.
People with disabilities – whether cognitive or physical – sometimes get treated differently in public places, Brandis said. She said her dad uses a wheelchair and isn’t always treated with respect, or like he’s a “normal person.”
“I see it all the time,” Brandis said. “I think (Purple Table) should be everywhere. “
The fairly simple training program gave the students some tips about how they can provide their customers with “reasonable accommodations to make their dining experience easier.”
They learned to be direct, use eye contact and be good listeners, to keep loud talking and physical contact to a minimum, not leave the table alone for too long, notice needs and social cues, and to be careful not to ask too many questions at once. They also learned more specific tips for dealing with customers who have dementia, hearing or vision loss, autism, and PTSD, as well as any other cognitive or physical impairments.
“It’s really about being patient and taking your time ... and just good customer service,” DaCosta said.
The program suggests setting aside a table or two in a quieter area for Purple Table reservations. Diman designated the first table so it is close to the door and restrooms and quieter than the center of the dining room.
A Purple Table restaurant means that diners and their families can request accommodations by phone or online reservation without feeling embarrassed. It heightens staff awareness and helps create empathy toward customers, DaCosta explained.
“This program was designed to be easy,” DaCosta said.
Students listened to the training and were provided with materials.
“I think it’s good to know,” said student Rylie Veilleux. “It could make it easier to communicate.”
Renee Patnaude said it would be helpful.
“We need to know what to do if someone comes in and how to treat them,” Patnaude said.
Alyssa Latinville said she wished “more places had Purple Table” because she has a cousin with autism and a grandparent with dementia.
DaCosta said the program will “provide good experiences for those diners” and can benefit the students in their future endeavors. “It’s really just some good skills you can take with you.”
Jonathan Root, a culinary arts instructor, said the program is a good fit for Room 251.
“A lot of people we deal with are elderly and need that extra assistance,” Root said.
Room 251 at Diman, 251 Stonehaven Road, is open to the public during the school year, Monday to Friday for breakfast from 8:30 to 10 a.m., and lunch from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Reservations are preferred and can be made at 508-678-2891, ext. 1970. Diners may request a Purple Table. Menus and dates of school closings are posted at dimanregional.org/room251.
Email Deborah Allard at firstname.lastname@example.org.