April 15, 2016


Restaurants present a particularly difficult listening challenge for hearing-impaired people. They are very noisy environments because of all the people talking, the servers moving about, etc. Music and clattering dishes add to the racket. Most of the time, we have no control over this type of situation, which can unfortunately make going out more stressful. This is why it is essential to use the communication strategies. It is also important not to hesitate to use hearing assistance systems to make the experience more enjoyable.

For hearing-impaired people

Picking the right restaurant:

  • Choose a restaurant where the tables and chairs are wood or upholstered, and where the floor covering is wood or carpet.
  • Avoid, if you can, restaurants where there is too much echo (e.g., big dining room, high ceilings).
  • Avoid sports bars, which are especially noisy.
  • Avoid restaurants where tables are connected to each other.
  • Avoid restaurants where the lighting is too dim.
  • If possible, choose a restaurant that you know is quieter:
    • Scout around to find restaurants that are less noisy in your community.
    • Keep a list of quieter restaurants and those with quieter areas.
  • Suggest that guests choose a restaurant you know is quieter.
  • Suggest that guests go out to eat during off-peak hours.
  • Once the restaurant has been chosen:
    • Many restaurants post their menu on their website. Become familiar with it beforehand.
    • More and more restaurants offer the option of booking a table online. Look for the Book a table tab or icon. Otherwise, call the restaurant to book a table (or a private room if many of you are going).

Picking the table

The best table for a hearing-impaired person is:

  • Located in a secluded place (especially when tables are close together)
  • Placed along a wall or in a corner:
    • This helps reduce noise, since a table in the middle of a room gets noise from all directions.
  • Located far from the kitchen doors, bar, entrance, buffet (if any), and speakers
  • Well lit, so you can see the lips and facial expressions of your table partners


  • If you are with a group, opt for a round table so you can see each guest’s face.
  • Ask the server which table is the quietest at the restaurant, and ask if you can take it.

The lighting at your table

  • If the lighting is insufficient, ask the server if it can be turned up.
  • Move sources of light (candles, lanterns, small lamps) to the side of the table to avoid having them directly in your field of view.

Picking the right seat at the table

  • If you are at a rectangular table, sit at one end so you can see the entire group.
  • Sit with your back to the window to reduce glare and backlighting.
  • Sit where there is less of a chance that the server will stand behind you to speak to everyone.
  • Sit so that the dining room noise comes from behind you.
  • Sit near people who are comfortable repeating things to help you.
  • If you go to a restaurant during the day, ask for a spot near the windows and sit with your back to them to avoid backlighting and ensure your partner’s face is well lit.

If you only wear one hearing aid:

  • Try to sit with your hearing-aid ear near the wall or window (unless the window opens onto a noisy street).
  • Sit facing the people you will be talking to the most.
  • If you hear better with one ear than the other, sit with your “good” ear next to these people.

Before the meal:

  • Tell your table partners that you have hearing problems and give them some example of what can help you.

During the meal:

  • If you have hearing aids or other technological aids such as an external microphone, a personal amplifier, or a personal FM system, use them.
  • If the background music is too loud, ask the server if it can be turned down.
  • If the server tells you the daily menu orally, ask for a printed version.
  • Ask your partners not to speak with their mouths full.
  • Ask your partners to look at you and not to cover their lips.
  • If you get lost in a conversation, confirm the conversation topic or ask someone you get along well with to help you.
  • Ask to be advised when there is a change in topic.
  • Ask your partners to repeat what you did not understand.
  • If you are a big group, break into subgroups of 2–3 people for discussions and change groups when needed.
  • Ask specific questions. For example, instead of asking, “What’s new?” say, “How is work, how are your kids, how is home?”
  • Verify your understanding during the conversation, for example, “So, if I understood correctly…” or “You are talking about…”
  • Find and look at the person talking.
  • Advise your partners if you think you’ll have more trouble following the conversation, e.g., “I’m tired today, so it’s harder for me to follow” or “It’s noisy here. I’m sorry, but I will have to ask you to repeat frequently.”
  • If you did not understand, ask your partners to:
    • Speak more slowly and a little more loudly
    • Repeat what you did not understand
    • Say the sentence in other words
    • Make short sentences
  • At the end of the meal, ask one person to stay so you can talk and ask them to repeat important information (e.g., date of the next family gathering).

For conversation partners

  • Choose a restaurant that is not too noisy and avoid peak hours.
  • Ask hearing-impaired people what is the most strategic place for them to sit.
  • If hearing-impaired people have hearing aids, encourage them to use them.
  • Do not speak with your mouth full or with something covering your mouth.
  • Do not speak while others are speaking.
  • When you speak to hearing-impaired people, look at them so they can read your lips.
  • Advise hearing-impaired people when there is a topic change in the conversation.
  • Avoid making unnecessary noises during the conversation.

If you see that hearing-impaired people have not understood a message:

  • Repeat it once as you said it initially.
  • If the person still does not understand, reformulate it.
  • Ask the person what part of the message they did not understand well.

Additional strategies for fast-food restaurants

(e.g., McDonald’s, Subway, Tim Hortons)

  • Tell the employee that you are hearing impaired and show your “CommuniCarte”.
  • Do not act like you understood if you did not.
  • Make a specific order, e.g., “I’ll take one small black coffee with an apple turnover to go. That’s it. Thank you!”
  • Look at the cash register screen to see the amount to pay.


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