Barry Wu, MD, professor of clinical medicine (Geriatrics), looks forward to New Haven Restaurant Week (NHRW) twice a year, when around thirty local restaurants have special lunch and dinner prix fixe menus, to encourage people to enjoy the city’s local restaurants. Over the summer, Wu and Richard Marottoli, MD, MPH, professor of medicine (Geriatrics), began to consider if there was a way to enable more older adults in the New Haven area, particularly ones with limitations, to enjoy NHRW.
Marottoli and Wu direct the Connecticut Older Adult Collaboration for Health program (COACH 4M), which is funded by a five-year $3.75 million Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program grant. COACH 4M, which began in July 2019, aims to enable Yale School of Medicine and its partners to create an age-friendly health environment across parts of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York, and focuses on the essential elements of an age-friendly health system, which are referred to as the “4Ms”: mentation (cognition and mood), medication (appropriate medication use), safe mobility (mobility inside and outside the home and fall prevention), and matters most (patient outcome health care goals and preferences). The program also seeks to provide better support for caregivers of older patients.
Marottoli and Wu believe that when older people and their caregivers go out to a restaurant, it advances the mentation, mobility, and matters most factors, through the social engagement and enjoyment of a meal. Moreover, getting out and not having to cook is usually a positive experience for caregivers.
Market New Haven, Inc. (MNHI), a public/private partnership among the City of New Haven, Yale, Yale New Haven Health, and the local business community, organizes NHRW. When Marottoli and Wu reached out to MNHI, they found tremendous support for their idea, which advances a shared goal of making positive New Haven experiences more broadly accessible. Marottoli and Wu worked with Bruno Baggetta, marketing and communications director at MNHI, to think about how best to address potential hurdles to older guests, and caregivers, who would like to participate in NHRW.
One key issue: some older guests may prefer eating dinner early. MNHI asked participating restaurants if they would be willing to accommodate an earlier schedule. Fifteen out of 31 participating restaurants were happy to accept reservations starting at 4:00 pm, for anyone who calls to make a reservation. An added benefit of the earlier time is that the restaurant is apt to be quieter, which can be beneficial for some older people. The restaurants with the early dining option now have a special clock icon in all the NHRW promotional materials, including the website.
A second issue is accessibility. Fourteen of the restaurants offering the early dining option also are wheelchair accessible. The NHRW marketing materials now have a wheelchair icon next to every restaurant (22 of 31) that is handicapped accessible, whether it has an early dinner option or not. MNHI realized this is beneficial information for people, regardless of age.
An inherent benefit of NHRW is that the prix fixe menus have fewer options than a traditional menu, simplifying the ordering process, which helps anyone who has a hard time processing long, complicated menus.
MNHI created special print material targeted to older people, showing which restaurants have early dining and which are handicapped accessible; these fliers also have the COACH 4M logo on them. MNHI worked with the New Haven Elderly Services Department, and their own contacts, to circulate this flier; the COACH 4M team is also sharing it with their community base and other partners.
MNHI and the COACH 4M team are excited about their collaboration. Baggetta states “New Haven Restaurant Week remains one of the most popular times to visit the Elm City and enjoy delicious cuisine at a tremendous value for lunch or dinner. This year, we are very excited to offer early dining as an option, as it adds another layer of accessibility and ultimately a more dynamic experience for guests.” Wu commented that the population is aging across our nation and this new initiative is one step in creating an age friendly city that is a model not only for Connecticut, but also across the United States.
Marottoli, Wu, and Baggetta are beginning to think about broader opportunities to make New Haven assets, such as museums, concerts, and parks, more accessible to an older demographic. This benefits the city, by making it a place that is more welcoming to all. And it benefits older people and their caregivers, who are able to get out, engage with community, and enjoy uplifting and fulfilling activities.