If you haven't done it already, now is the time to book your Valentine's Day dinner and date plans to surprise your significant other and treat him or her to a fun night out. On this holiday that so many people celebrate, it can be tricky to find a spot that isn't too crowded or loud for good conversation with your significant other who has hearing loss. But by planning ahead and asking the right questions, you'll find the perfect venue. Here are our tips for choosing a hearing loss friendly restaurant and entertainment venue:
Restaurants vary widely in their environments and ambiance, which can differ even among romantic venues. While some restaurants cater to young crowds with a loud and electric environment, others are more laid back with well-spaced tables for better conversations. Because people with hearing loss have an especially difficult time hearing in noisy places, even with hearing aids, it's key to learn about a restaurant's noise levels, lighting and general vibe before you bring your Valentine there.
Questions to ask restaurant owners
You can check out a restaurant yourself, but it's also a good idea to give the owner a call. Explain that your are interested in making a reservation for a romantic dinner, but because your spouse has hearing loss, you have a few questions first to make sure the locale will work for you. Most owners and managers will be happy to make any accommodations they can for you.
- When is your restaurant the least noisy?
- During or near peak dining hours, is there a place that we could reserve a table that is quieter than others? Spots that you should generally avoid are near the kitchen, bar or host area.
- Can we have a table where one person's back can be against the wall, such as a corner spot? This is helpful because background noise is one of the biggest problems for people with hearing loss. If your significant other can sit with his or her back to a wall, rather than to other people, it will make it easier for him or her to hear and will improve the quality of your date. However, if your spouse wears advanced hearing aids with directional microphones, it might be better for him or her to sit with the moist noise coming from behind.
- Is there ample lighting, or would you describe your restaurant as dim? In some places, low-lighting and light by candles is a way to make the venue more romantic. However, for people with hearing loss, this can actually be less romantic - disastrous, even.
- Does your restaurant have Deaf Link or another ASL interpreting service? For people who are deaf, Deaf Link is an app that provides a virtual interpreter for communication with the waiter or waitress.
- Does your restaurant play background music? Compounded with even a slightly noisy environment, this could make hearing extra difficult.
Other restaurant considerations
There are a few other things you should keep in mind when planning a Valentine's Day meal with your significant other, including:
- When you get to the restaurant, ask for a written version of the specials. Sometimes, wait staff have them memorized and can ramble them off with impressive speed. But for people with hearing loss and those who rely upon lipreading, it's better to see the specials written down.
- Consider an alternate meal time, rather than dinner. Restaurants are always packed on Valentine's Day. If you can or want to, try to arrange for an earlier dinner, such as at 5:00 p.m. Peak dinner hours are usually from 6:30 to 8:30, so you can skirt around these by eating earlier. (Many restaurants get noisier the later it gets, so later is not ideal.) Another good idea is to have a romantic brunch or lunch when restaurants are sure to be less crowded.
- Pick a restaurant that has been designed to swallow up noise. These are restaurants that have widely spaced tables with tablecloths, curtains and soft fabric-covered furniture.
- Have your spouse bring his or her personal amplifying system.
- Lipreading is difficult to do while someone is eating, so take time to eat quietly and enjoy your food and converse between courses.
- The conversation partner and person with hearing loss should not be near bright lights, as they make speechreading difficult by casting shadows on faces.
Another popular Valentine's Day option is seeing some type of show, whether it's a musical, play, movie or something else. If you're considering going to the local theater, here are some things to know:
- Theaters are required under the ADA to have accommodations for people with hearing loss and other disabilities. However, there are some exceptions and not all small theaters are completely accessible yet. Call the theater to ask about captioning assistive listening devices, sign language interpreters and other services that they might offer for people with hearing loss. It's important to call in advance to know if these or other services are available so the venue can be prepared.
- Arrive early to theaters to ensure that services for your hard of hearing spouse are in place and available.
- When going to the movie theater, one good site to use is Captionfish, which can tell you which theaters and show times in your area have assistive listening devices. These might include CaptiView® closed captioning, Sony® Access Glasses or Rear Window® captioning. Some theaters offer open captions for special show times as well.