Sensoriale, located in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, is a restaurant where the staff knows more than just a thing or two about being accepting and helpful to people with sensory issues, such as those on the autism spectrum. The eatery’s claim to fame is being completely inclusive to everyone and maintaining sensory offerings that help people on the spectrum cope with the sensory overload (or lack of sensory stimulation) that can cause so much stress and discomfort.
If you stop by the Sensoriale Restaurant, the brainchild of Mel Lingwood and her son Owen Hardstaff, who has autism, you’ll notice that changes have been made to decrease the amount of light and sound in the restaurant, including removing air dryers in the bathrooms and sound-proofing the kitchen. They’ve also added earphones and fiddle toys at every table to keep people entertained and block out unwanted auditory stimuli.
Those who are in the mood for some extra sensory stimulation—apart from the color-changing lights and textured walls that can be found throughout the restaurant—can hang out in the “chill-out zone,” where there are bean bag chairs and other offerings to excite the senses.
Back at your table, you’ll find a wide variety of offerings on the menu, and you can even order some combinations you won’t find on the menu. Staff members are great about being flexible when patrons have particular dietary needs or sensory issues with certain foods.
“We can cater for everyone’s needs, not just those on the autism spectrum,” says Michael Cummins, a chef at Sensoriale. “If you want chips and ice-cream, you can have chips and ice-cream.”
Even better is the fact that anything on the menu can be ordered on a sectioned plate so that different types of food don’t touch each other. Many people with autism are sensitive to mixtures of tastes and textures and prefer for their food to be kept separate. And at Sensoriale, there’s no judgment for that.
“For people who are on the spectrum, families feel they are going to be judged when they go out,” says trainee deputy manager Bradley Ramsay. “It stops them going out to eat or going out for birthdays or parties. In some restaurants, people don’t know how to deal with this, but here we know exactly what to do.”
The restaurant, which just opened in March of 2019, also hires people on the autism spectrum and aims to educate other businesses about inclusion and autism friendliness. They hope to continue to add new features in the future, such as private booths with adjustable lighting.
It seems the owners and designers of this restaurant really thought of everything to make Sensoriale the perfect dining experience for people on the spectrum—and everyone else. Thank you, Mel and Owen, for putting so much time and effort into being totally inclusive and offering so many special accommodations to your patrons! The world needs more awesome places like this and people like you!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?