Restaurants: A Special Needs Adventure



Having a special needs child brings its own set of challenges most never experience. When my son, Samuel, came home from the hospital, going out in public meant my son having a meltdown as we drove the van. So, I found it easier to stay home – with the exception of going to a myriad of doctor’s appointments. Going out also meant bringing emergency equipment and a boat load of mommy worry.

What if he got too cold or hot? What if he caught a cold? What if his equipment failed? The “what ifs” put me in full mommy protection mode and paralyzed me in my own bubble. Better to stay home than go out into the world where I wasn’t in control and where unknown disasters hid behind every turn.

The door to the outside world opened when we were nominated for a wish from The Make A Wish Foundation, Suncoast Tampa. We received a dream vacation to Orlando. That forced this momma outside of her comfort zone. A week in Orlando taught us how to make a checklist, assuring we always remembered the precious life-giving equipment. In 7 days, the only thing we forgot was diapers in the heart of Disney. Imagine that!

Fast forward to 2016, Samuel no longer needs a ventilator to breathe. I no longer fear venturing out but am still cautious. I remember taking him to Target for the first time. He loved the lights, the products on the shelves and people watching. Another venture where I’ve overcome the “what ifs” is going to a restaurant.

Things To Consider

We never put our son in a restaurant high chair. First, it doesn’t support his body properly, and second, it’s potentially full of germs. So, he enjoys the comfort of his stroller. The restaurant also needs wide aisles to accommodate the stroller. And good air conditioning. This may seem like a no-brainer, but living in Florida – especially in the summer – it’s something I have to pay attention to. Within minutes, Samuel can be sweating, drenching his hair.

I’m also cautious about buffet-style restaurants. We still frequent such establishments; however, I wash my hands before and after and I use a napkin to touch the serving spoons. Whatever I can do to prevent germs from getting to our little guy, I’ll do.

My Top 3 Local Picks

Panini’s Bar & Grill

With these factors in mind, we carefully select our options for eating out. In Lutz, we have had success at an adorable sports bar called Panini’s on the corner of Dale Mabry and Van Dyke in the Publix shopping center. The aisles are wide enough for the stroller, and the air is cool. My son focuses on the large television screens, mesmerized by the various sports playing and delighted by the loud noise. If there is a football game on, he laughs when everyone cheers. That works in my book.

Umami Sushi

Found in the LA Fitness shopping center on Van Dyke and Dale Mabry, Umami Sushi is another gem. Though this little delight of a restaurant doesn’t have as wide of aisles, they sit us by a booth or squeeze the stroller between tables for a good fit. The darkness of the restaurant sets off the blinking lights, keeping it cool and providing ambiance. It’s a good thing because the food is amazing. No, we don’t give Samuel sushi due to food allergies, but at least we can enjoy the cuisine and keep Samuel happy – usually with a constant stream of cereal, his favorite. And as parents, this helps us have a break together.

Umami Sushi restaurant

Macaroni Grill

At the corner of Ehrlich and Dale Mabry in North Tampa at the Target Shopping Center is a set apart restaurant called Macaroni Grill. They offer table tops set in a diamond angle, which allows for our little guy’s stroller to fit perfectly. Our wee one has never been caught sweating because the air is cool and comfortable. They also offer crayons, which Samuel likes to brush stroke back and forth on the paper table cloth.

These three spots are on our list of places to go. Whenever we consider going out, I have to follow these criteria. If it’s too warm, we take our order to go. If there’s no room to accommodate us, we leave making a note not to return. As a parent, it’s what you do.

What is your criteria for going out to a restaurant with your child(ren)?

Evelyn Mann is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Tampa, Florida raising her special needs son, Samuel. Her son was born with a rare form of dwarfism called Thanatophoric Dwarfism and is only one of a handful of survivors. He is fourteen-years-old and has exceeded medical expectations. Evelyn is an author of a memoir, Miracle In My Living Room: The Story Of A Little Mann. Her new devotional is called Thriving Through Your Trials: Devotions of Miracles, Faith & Prayer. Her popular blog is found at She receives inquiries from around the world asking about her son’s miraculous survival. Follow Samuel's amazing journey at