The Restaurant that Makes Mistakes: New local TV show shares tales of restaurant staffed by people living with dementia.

Back row: Suz, Chris, Ben, Mike, Bevin. Front: Dawn, Mark, Marilyn, Cliff, Graeme from The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes.

On the face of it, the idea of putting people with dementia to work in a stressful environment like the hospitality industry seems like it could be exploitative, but the concept has proven to be funny, moving and illuminating.

Blackley admits that she had an “initial kind of resistance” when she first heard about the idea, but once she saw the warmth and positivity of the show, she could see the benefits, to both the volunteers and viewers.

Tests relating to anxiety and depression were conducted on the volunteers at the beginning of the show and they were then retested at the end.

“The whole experience of being in the restaurant and being engaged and having the camaraderie of people working around them and having a sense of value made a huge impact on their sense of wellbeing across all the measurements. So that was a really satisfying part of the show,” says Blackley.

Diners are aware that the restaurant is staffed by people with dementia and the volunteers had to serve some high-profile names, from chefs Gareth Stewart, Michael Van de Elzen and Ganesh Raj to journalist Jack Tame.

In chef Ben Bayly (A New Zealand Food Story), Blackley and her team found the ideal person to lead their restaurant. Not only is he an award-winning chef, he has a personal connection to dementia, losing his grandmother to the condition just last year.

“It’s very much a personal cause for him. He really wanted to do this for her,” says Blackley.

Rhonda Preston-Jones, who is the clinical lead for Dementia Auckland, says that Bayly treated the volunteers with great respect.

“He didn’t talk down to them, he didn’t patronise them. Because underneath the dementia is the person, the person is still there.”

The production company worked closely with Dementia Auckland, an organisation which offers support to dementia patients and their families. Preston-Jones helped recruit the volunteers and was on set every day to ensure sensitivity and that the volunteers’ dementia was managed.

Preston-Jones says while some of the volunteers and their families were immediately excited by the idea of sharing what life with dementia is really like, there was hesitancy from others, largely because of concerns over how they might be perceived.

“Dementia is steeped with stigma and myths and fear. And so a lot of people in their own families, they’ve got their heads around the person that they love and care for having a diagnosis, but they’re not sure about other people around them, other people judging them, other people criticising.”

Blackley says there are lots of light-hearted moments and hijinks in the kitchen but the humour is never directed at the volunteers’ conditions.

Preston-Jones recalls how the family of one volunteer was excited for the country to meet her father.

“One of the daughters said, ‘I’m just waiting for the whole of New Zealand to fall in love with our dad because we love him so much – he’s amazing’.

“If you provide people with the right scaffolding to support them underneath, they can still be themselves, and they can still function. And yes they’ll make mistakes, but that’s OK. Because the joy, the confidence building, the pleasure that people got and the pride they got in doing what they were doing was well worth it. It was incredible.”


The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes begins on TVNZ 1 and TVNZ + on Sunday June 18 at 8:30pm.




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