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February 29, 2024

Low sensory dinners at the Arkaba Hotel

Arkaba Hotel is the state's first venue to introduce a low sensory dining experience, courtesy of Autism SA.

  • Words: Sharni McPhail
  • Graphic: Jayde Vandborg
  • Pictures: Supplied

Bright lights, loud noise and strong smells might be the norm for a pub but for people on the spectrum, it can make a night out overwhelming.


Arkaba Hotel
150 Glen Osmond Road, Fullarton 5063
Quiet Dinners
First Monday of every month
Next dinner: March 4, from 5pm ’til 9pm


Arkaba Hotel is the first venue in South Australia to introduce Quiet Dinners to give autistic people a low sensory space to enjoy a pub meal.

Held on the first Monday of each month, a private room in the venue has its lights dimmed, a secluded bar, reduced sound and no TV. This allows customers to order without having to navigate the busyness of the main dining areas.

According to Autism SA, nearly 60 per cent of autistic people avoid going to pubs. Autism SA and the Australian Hotels Association SA are working together to make South Australian venues more inclusive and accessible, starting with the the Arkaba.

“We had a lot of feedback around [going out],” Autism SA liaison officer Kaitlin Withers says.

“It’s really hard for people to go to restaurants and pubs.

“For a lot of them, they weren’t really going out, even though they would like to.”

From L—R: Katherine Taylor (AHA SA), Anna Hurley (Hurley Hotel Group), Owen Webb (AHA SA) and Kaitlin Withers (Autism SA)


Anna Hurley, publican for the Hurley Hotel Group that owns the Arkaba, is passionate about offering a welcoming environment for everyone to enjoy a good meal.

“Our whole team is so engaged in this process and has been so interested in learning about autism and little things that we can do,” she says.

The first Quiet Dinner at the Arkaba Hotel was held on February 5, and Anna said that not only did families of autistic people attend, but couples and singles of all ages enjoyed the peaceful dining experience.

Anna noted a few people who came in were hard of hearing and preferred the quiet atmosphere.

“One of the people who attended said that they couldn’t go out for their birthday dinner because they couldn’t find anywhere that was suitable for them,” she says.

“They brought their family in for a belated birthday dinner because of this event, which was great.

“We want to make sure that we can cater for people who just want a quiet family dinner or people who want something that’s a bit more special.”


Autism SA’s CEO Helen Graham says that the response around the Quiet Dinner has been overwhelmingly positive.

“When people saying ‘this is fantastic’ we know we’ve got it right. We’re excited to be a part of this,” she says.

“[The Quiet Dinner] was a wonderful success,” says Kaitlin.

“You could tell straight away it was very different to a normal dinner. It was very dim, very peaceful, was spaced out that you couldn’t really hear what was happening next to you.”

Anna Hurley and Kaitlin Withers

Arkaba Hotel staff have been given free training courtesy of Pubs with Hearts and Kaitlin through the Autism Friendly Charter. The training covered customer interaction and guidance in supporting autistic coworkers within the workplace environment.

“A lot of venues don’t realise that you don’t have to have this all-or-nothing approach. There are lots of things they can do that are just small tweaks or changes to an environment that can make a difference,” says Helen.

“Even if you can’t do a lot of environmental change, it’s about how you engage with the autistic community.”

Beyond Quiet Dinners, the Arkaba Hotel has provided social stories on its website, allowing people to browse the menu online, see pictures of the venue, know where the pub is and what to expect when dining.

“Often that’s the scariness part – not knowing what to expect,” Helen says.

“If you take that anxiety away and do lots of preparation beforehand, it’s a lot less stressful.”

Anna is excited to extend Quiet Dinners to more than once a month and widen its social events to include date nights and singles-mingle.

“We’re somewhere that anyone who walks through the door can feel comfortable,” Anna says.

“I have learned so much through this process and I think we’ve still got a lot more to learn.”

Quiet Dinners happen on the first Monday of each month from 5pm until 9pm. The next event will be on Monday, March 4. Bookings can be made through the website.

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