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Northbrook, IL: Restaurant offers "sensory-friendly dining"

July 27, 2023, Chicago Daily Herald: Northbrook restaurant introduces sensory-friendly dining sessions

Saturdays at most restaurants are crowded, loud and bustling with action. It makes for a fun atmosphere for most of us, but for people with autism or other sensory disorders it can be too much to handle.

Chef Sarah Stegner of Prairie Grass Cafe is hoping a new special program at the Northbrook restaurant will provide an opportunity where everyone can come together and enjoy a meal.

"I really feel strongly that restaurants are about creating that moment where people can sit down and connect and be taken care of," Stegner said. "Everybody should be able to have that experience."

For three upcoming Saturdays, Prairie Grass Cafe will offer sensory-friendly dining hours.
The 90-minute special seatings will take place Aug. 5, 12 and 26 starting at 3:45 p.m., and will be designed to provide an inclusive atmosphere for people with autism, sensory input disorders, sensory sensitivities or other physical, cognitive or developmental disabilities.

Stegner said she got the idea after talking with a family friend who has autistic children. Her friend said they never go out to restaurants.

"She said it's overwhelming for them," Stegner said. "The sounds are overwhelming, the people are overwhelming. And I understand that when you walk in to a restaurant on a Saturday, when most families come together, it's hard to even have a conversation in the best of circumstances."

So Stegner set out to do something about it. She enlisted the help of Hannah Rose Higdon, a friend from Louisville, Kentucky. Higdon, who is deaf, advocates for that community as well as a variety of other differently-Abled communities.

Higdon said she was excited to be able to get involved, having heard of stores with sensory-friendly shopping hours, but didn't know of many restaurants doing it.

"I thought it honestly overdue," Higdon said. "All people want to go out to get dinner together, and it's just really nice that now they have a space to do so where they can feel included and have a normal, fun experience."

When it comes to making a more inviting space for people with sensory sensitivities, less is more.

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