Subscribe to our free, daily publication for all your Westford news.
Nashoba Valley Technical High School’s in-school restaurant, The Elegant Chef, is joining a local effort to better serve patrons with physical or cognitive conditions that make it difficult for them to dine out.
The Purple Table Reservation program was created last year by Jenifer Apazidis, owner of The Red Raven restaurant in Acton, when a guest mentioned her son was autistic and that it might be a good idea to seat them separately from other guests.
Apazidis realized then that there are many people with autism, dementia, post-traumatic stress syndrome or other disabilities, either physical or cognitive or both, who would benefit from special treatment. So she created the Purple Table Reservation program. All people need to do when they call or go online to make a reservation is say they want a Purple Table Reservation, and the staff knows what to do from there.
After posting about the program on social media, the idea “went viral,” Apazidis said. Currently, 11 restaurants in four states (North Carolina, Ohio and Oregon, in addition to Massachusetts) have signed up for the program, with 12 more ready to join and 15 more making a commitment.
The Elegant Chef is the first school restaurant to sign on to the program.
“We started it when we realized a lot of people could use these accommodations,” Apazidis said during a visit to Nashoba Tech to talk to students in the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management programs. “It’s super-easy. It’s all about knowing your guests and caring and creating a space and making the environment around them as comfortable as possible. You’re going to make them feel as if they’re just another person at the table. A lot of it is awareness and education and knowing your guest has something else on their plate, so to speak.”
The Purple Table Reservation program provides training to restaurant employees. There is no actual “purple table.” Rather, it’s a kind of code phrase to employees that someone in the party has a condition that needs extra attention.
While talking to students at Nashoba Tech, Apazidis asked them to think about any family members who may be autistic or have other disabilities.
“Think about how great it would be to be able to go out to eat and have the restaurant be prepared,” she said.
Jeremy Bussiere, the instructor for Nashoba Tech’s Hospitality Management program, said joining the Purple Table Reservation program “is a great way to show we care and that we’re part of the community.”
“It’s a way for us to accommodate somebody who might need special help,” he said.
Theresa Ristaino, a Health Assisting instructor at Nashoba Tech, first heard of the program and brought it to the attention of Bussiere and other instructors in The Elegant Chef.
“I was blown away the first time I heard about it,” Ristaino said. “It is such a simple concept for a totally unmet need. Westford is making an effort to become a ‘dementia-friendly’ community, and this goes a long way to supporting that effort.”
Ristaino noted that Nashoba Tech is a partner of Bridges by EPOCH, an assisted-living facility whose residents have dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other memory-related disabilities.
“Because we partner with Bridges for so many things, it seemed like a perfect plan to have our restaurant certified,” she said. “I’m excited it is happening.”