Have you ever been to a restaurant and things just didn’t feel right? Or you feel more stressed when you leave than you did when you walked in? Or you change tables 3 times and are still not happy? This can all be linked to your sensory thresholds – in other words, how you unconsciously process sensory stimuli from the environment.
Today I want to give you some tips on choosing the restaurant that is right for your unique sensory threshold. You will also gain some insight into why you might intuitively like certain restaurants and not others. Our sensory ‘decisions’ are made in a lower, subconscious part of our brain and influence our everyday lives, often without us even being aware of the decisions being made – like choosing a restaurant!
But first, let me explain sensory thresholds. People are divided into three broad categories of sensory thresholds:
- Sensory seeking: People who seek more sensory input from their environments. Generally, they enjoy busy environments, cope well with change and don’t mind loud noise.
- Sensory adaptable: People who don’t respond greatly to sensory input, they don’t seek more or less. They are usually adaptable, even-tempered and can easily be in a high-energy or low-energy environment. For that reason I won’t give much guidelines for medium threshold people when choosing a restaurant, but they can look at each point individually as sometimes different senses (like smell, taste, touch etc) can be seeking or sensitive.
- Sensory sensitive: People who need less sensory input from their environments. Usually they dislike busy, environments, enjoy predictability and like soft background music.
Not sure which one you are?
Then take our quick, FREE Sensory Quiz after you’ve read this blog.
- Seating: I am sensory sensitive. The first thing I look at in a restaurant is where I am going to sit. I prefer corner seats, with my back facing the restaurant, or seats that are not next to a walkway. Sensory seekers however are not very particular about where they sit, but the closer to the action, the better. They would enjoy facing the the other tables and won’t mind sitting close to a door that opens and closes constantly.
- Chairs: For people with a lower sensory threshold (sensory sensitivity), restaurant seats are much more important than for those with a higher threshold (sensory seekers). Lower threshold people enjoy more comfortable chairs, tub chairs, chairs with back- and arm-rests. Sensory seekers don’t mind bar-stools or chairs without back- and arm-rests. This can definitely be a deal-breaker on a first date 😊
- Menu: People with sensory sensitivity might enjoy simpler dishes, or menu’s with less items to choose from, as they become easily overwhelmed by too much information. They might stick to dishes they’ve tried before, or choose a dish they know well. Sensory seekers love novelty and variety. They won’t mind a menu with many different items and would enjoy choosing new and exciting dishes and flavours.
- Colour & decor: Even though sensory sensitives appreciate interesting interiors, they might be drawn to more neutral colours and minimal objects in their visual field. They don’t like clutter in their visual space. Sensory seekers on the other hand are generally drawn to bright colours and a variety of decorations and interesting interior designs.
- Routine: Do you always go back to old favourites, or do you like trying different restaurants when you go out? This is a perfect example of the subconscious ‘decisions’ of your sensory thresholds at play. Sensory sensitives usually have a favourite place or two and stick to them. Sensory seekers want to try new places and have new experiences. This can be a tricky situation for new couples or friends and might require some negotiation.
- Spacing: We are also subconsciously drawn to the spacing of a restuarant. Sensory sensitives are intuitively drawn to restaurants with cozy corners, smaller rooms, less tables in an area, lower lighting, less movement and lower energy. Sensory seekers don’t mind large, open spaces, many tables and chairs, lots of people, people who stand and sit, lots of movement and high energy in a restaurant.
I hope this explains why you love some places and don’t like going to others. Please share some of your sensory experiences and insights at restaurants with us in the Comments Block. We would love to hear from you!
Written by Karlien Terblanche, a specialist facilitator with Sensory Intelligence® Consulting, with a special focus on adults and corporate groups. She holds a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Stellenbosch and specialises in the field of mental health. She has extensive experience in the area of sensory integration in adults and is currently exploring sensory mindfulness as a preventative strategy in mental health and wellness. She is passionate about working with both individual clients and groups and aims to guide her clients to reach their full potential. She fully believes every person can become the hero of their own story.