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Ma Raffa's catering to diners with Alzheimer's, autism

Herald News - 4/9/2018

SOMERSET - A quiet corner table, an attentive and patient server, and a little extra care is all it takes to serve a family dealing with Alzheimer's or autism a plate of pride with their spaghetti and meatballs.

Ma Raffa's has become the first local restaurant to accept Purple Table Reservations, a designation that means staff has been trained to accommodate people with physical and cognitive conditions so they can enjoy dining out like everyone else.

"It's not just that person, it's the person's family," said Ma Raffa's owner Nick Raffa, grandson of the original "Ma" for whom the Italian restaurant is named. "I don't know who wouldn't want to do it."

The Purple Table Reservations program - purple being the color used in recognition of Alzheimer's disease - was created by Acton gastropub owner Jenifer Apazidis, after caring for her mom when she developed Alzheimer's in her 50s. Ma Raffa's is the 12th restaurant to join Purple Table in the nation.

Apazidis said in an earlier interview that "eating out is something (most of us) take for granted," and explained how stressful it can be for families dealing with Alzheimer's, autism, dementia, PTSD, hearing and vision impairments, and other conditions.

Certain conditions can draw unwanted attention and scrutiny and even embarrass families into staying home, according to Apazidis.

The idea of Purple Table Reservations is "a seat for everyone." And, it's discreet, so other diners won't be aware of the special accommodations.

Bristol Elder Services partnered with Purple Table to bring the service to the SouthCoast. It fits well with the agency's goal of making businesses "dementia friendly" through a short training program. Some 30 local businesses have been designated "dementia friendly," so far.

Raffa said the restaurant has always tried to accommodate all of its customers, and Purple Table Reservations has only given them more knowledge and training in the area.

"This puts an exclamation on the fact ? that there's a place that will cater to them," Raffa said. "We're in."

Jeanna Da Costa, Bristol Elder Services Dementia Friendly liaison, said the training for both programs is simple.

Businesses, including restaurants, learn ways to accommodate their customers' needs.

In a restaurant, that might mean offering a quiet or private seating area and an attentive staff. They learn to be sure there are no obstacles at exits or near restrooms, that the seating area is wheelchair accessible. They learn that consistency is best for some diners, so use one server to seat, take the food order, and remove dishes. They also learn tips like not moving items on the table when a diner has impaired vision.

Raffa said they have a dining room that can accommodate everyone and even an area that can be closed off if needed. He said all the "front-of-the-house" servers have been trained.

"It comes down to good customer service, awareness, ? a little extra patience, and listening," Da Costa said.

Ma Raffa's employees were eager to learn.

"It's a great program," said Ma Raffa's manager Shannon Silvia. "The employees are all on board with it. We do it now. We make sure customers are happy and have a great experience."

Purple Table Reservations will be offered at Ma Raffa'sSomerset location only, starting today, and from Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Hours may be expanded in the future. Visit or call Ma Raffa's at 508-324-0909 to make a reservation. Diners needn't disclose information about specific conditions unless they choose to do so.

Restaurants wanting to learn about Purple Table Reservation and businesses who would like to become dementia friendly can contact Bristol Elder Services at 508-675-2101. Restaurants can also visit

Email Deborah Allard at


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