Being deaf is: straining to lipread restaurant order numbers

September 23, 2014 – 7:40 pm

I’m starting this series, patient and we’ll see what happens.

Being deaf is going to McDonalds and not being able to relax. Or Five Guys, recuperation or Starbucks, or the Greek restaurant at DuPont circle in Washington DC — anywhere they give you an order number or ask for your name and then call out when your food’s ready.

Because you don’t know when your food’s ready. So you either hover, hawklike and intent, hogging the counter for the entire preparation time, trying to lipread the person at the mic, trying to guess whether the food they’ve just put out is yours. No hanging out, getting a soda, looking at the decor, relaxing. Every fiber of your being is on high alert for 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes, waiting for the simple interrupt of “Yes, Your Food Is Ready.”

The other option is to sit down and relax and be oblivious, knowing that you’re probably annoying the person at the mic, who has to call you 3 times. That you’ll check every so often, only to find out that your food’s not done yet — or that it is done, and is now cold from waiting out so long.

The same thing happens when you’re on the waitlist at a restuarant and they call your name to seat you. If they get your name right, for that matter — you may not be pushing all your consonants out properly over the noise. “Mallory” and “Mel” morph into “Belle” (understandable), “Meredith” and “Melody” (kind of understandable), “Bethany” (at least it’s the same syllable stress pattern, and has shared vowels) and “Meth” (…I don’t even know where that came from). If they garble your name when they hear it, good luck trying to lipread a name that’s not yours. “Uh, yes. I’m… I’m ‘Meth.’”

Consequently, I appreciate the little buzzer blinky hockey pucks that tell you when your order’s ready or your table’s set. I appreciate the Starbucks at the Purdue Memorial Union, where they saw me signing with another customer and brought my drink right over. And I appreciate friends simply listening for when my number’s called — I’m still amazed that a task so difficult for me is so simple for them. (It is like having friends who all have superpowers.)

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  1. 3 Responses to “Being deaf is: straining to lipread restaurant order numbers”

  2. I frequent a mexican taco place. They have a unique method of placing an order. They have a box of 3×5 cards where you write your order, you r name and if you want it ‘to go’. Then bring it to the counter for the cashier to charge you and then put the cards near the cook. This would not help all those issues but it helps some. The fellow then call your name or walk around with the card and you can spot your hand written order.

    By Kevix on Sep 23, 2014

  3. It’s not quite as nice or convenient as the buzzers, but another thing that I like is when there’s an LED screen showing the current order numbers/names that I can periodically check. Especially if it’s in a highly visible place.

    By codeman38 on Sep 24, 2014

  4. Mel, wrote a couple of posts on a related topic – apps to convert speech to text/ASL at

    By Yaanqing on Nov 28, 2014

What do you think?