Dining Out With a Vestibular Disorder

When you are working around a vestibular disorder, even the simplest activities can become difficult and enjoying social engagements, such as a dinner out with friends and family can become a terrifying undertaking. Here are a few general tips to help make a night out more enjoyable.

Selecting a restaurant:
– Pick a restaurant with small, separate rooms to decrease noise pollution.
– Avoid dining during busy times.
– Avoid places that play loud music or sitting next to live entertainment.
– Look for restaurants that have carpeted floors which help to reduce noise and the vibrations caused by waiters/waitress moving around.
– Avoid places with visually distracting floors, such as those that are highly polished or have busy patterns.
– Avoid places with busy wall patterns as well.

– Sit away from and with your back to fluorescent lighting to avoid overstimulating your eyes and triggering a vestibular episode.
– Remove or blow out a flickering candle as this can overstimulate your peripheral vision.

Choosing Seating:
– When making a reservation request to be seated in a corner in order to avoid the busiest parts of the restaurant.                                                                                                                                 – Sit away from kitchens, bars, and registers due to the amount of movement occurring around them.                                                                                                                                                                 – If the restaurant has a ceiling fan, sit with your back to it to decrease the amount of movement occurring in your peripheral vision.                                                                                       – Sit in chairs rather than a bench to reduce the motion caused by others seated next to you.     – Opt for a booth rather than a table as the walls of the booth help to block noise and motion.- Use chairs with armrests to take advantage of the additional stabilizing cues they provide.
– Reduce amount of head turning required when talking with friends and family by choosing a round table or by sitting at the head of the table.

Ordering from the menu:
– If the restaurant has a website, download a menu in advance and plan the meal before you go to help avoid visual strain of reading the menu, any confusion/anxiety that may come with being rushed into make a decision, or figuring out if substitutions will be needed such as a change in salad dressing to decrease sugar or salt intake.

Lastly, know your symptoms and adjust accordingly. Determine which of the above suggestions you should follow to help improve your dining experience; if turning your head increases symptoms follow the tips that reduce head movement or if light tends to aggravate you, look at the “lighting” category.


*Adapted from On the Level, Spring 2011, Vol 28, No. 2, Vestibular Disorders Association quarterly newsletter