One of the most basic goals of any restaurant is to provide a comfortable and enjoyable experience for every guest. Unfortunately, many guests with special needs find restaurant accessibility is lacking. This brings unnecessary frustration or embarrassment to the experience of disabled customers and their companions.
Many tasks that seem easy to others, from navigating the dining room to entering the restroom or simply being able to read the menu, are major challenges for many restaurant patrons. Lack of accessibility not only puts a damper on that guest’s meal, but also on the experience of the friends and family dining with them. Your food may be incredible, but it will easily be overshadowed by a lack of accessibility. And there are specific operational changes you can make in your restaurant to ensure the dining experience is wonderful for those guests.
Updating Entry Ways
People with disabilities will be looking for easy access to entryways. This means flat entrances, ramps as an alternative to steps, elevators for 2nd floor businesses, automatic doors, and handicap parking spaces if your location includes parking. Some business owners may think, “The building is accessible enough” or “There’s only a couple of steps at the front door!” But for many diners with disabilities (especially those who use mobility aids like wheelchairs), those couple of steps are a real burden.
If potential guests with disabilities are considering your restaurant (either while they’re in the neighborhood or searching online) and see your entryway is inaccessible to them, they’ll move on to another restaurant.
Restaurant accessibility doesn’t end with mobility. Struggles with hearing and sight can ruin a dining experience, too.
While they are an investment, ordering a small amount of braille menus for when you have blind guests can make a big difference for that table. It allows the blind patrons to browse your menu at their own pace, and it allows their companions to read the menu for themselves instead of helping their friend.
Many guests (including older diners) have partial vision, so print your menus is an easy to read sans-serif font with larger font size. And if you can’t make a larger font size work for your menu, that might be a sign you have too many items crowding your menu and should edit your selection. If you’re a fast-casual restaurant with a menu board, also consider printing out small paper menus to offer to guests with sight issues.
An overly noisy restaurant can put any guest in a bad mood, but especially guests who have trouble hearing to begin with. This isn’t just for the hard of hearing, either; many guests of all ages have sensory challenges. Parents of kids with sensory issues research restaurants before they go out, and if your reviews say your dining room is too loud and the lights are too harsh, they won’t see you as a viable family dining option.
Consider installing sound dampeners to better control the noise levels in your dining room. If you have TVs in your front-of-house, it’s a good idea to keep on closed captioning for those who need it. These are small ways restaurant accessibility can be improved.
And the next time you’re going through the front-of-house hiring process, keep an eye out for any resumes that list American Sign Language (ASL) as one of the applicant’s skills.
Installing Accessible Bathrooms
Using the restroom can be much more difficult for people with disabilities, but it’s especially a problem if the restaurant hasn’t made accommodations for guests like them. Again, it might not matter how good your food is if the guest feels you didn’t think of their basic needs with your restaurant accessibility.
Consider including one accessible bathroom stall in each restroom. That stall should include a grab bar on the back wall and the side, more space to turn, and a wider door that swings out instead of in. Include a sink that’s lower to the ground will also help guests in wheelchairs in particular.
While not specifically related to restaurant accessibility in terms of disabilities, consider putting baby changing stations in all bathrooms, regardless of gender. You’ll be doing a service to dads and grandfathers dining out with their toddlers and babies.
Reorganizing Floor Layout
Make sure there’s enough space for guests with wheelchairs and other mobility aids to follow your host with ease to their table. Obviously, booths and high tables can be challenging for some guests to get into. Your dining room should include some seating that will accommodate wheelchairs — including tables that specifically allow enough leg room for wheelchairs — and your host should be trained to pair groups who have mobility issues with that seating.
If you have two floors to your dining room, see about installing an elevator. If you absolutely can’t install an elevator, make sure your host knows to seat guests with disabilities at a table on the ground floor.
Accommodating Service Dogs
Many people with disabilities use service dogs. These animals are legally allowed in restaurants, but must stay with their handler at all times (including when going to the restroom). You and your staff are allowed to confirm with the guest that the dog is a service animal and what its tasks are.
Because these service dogs are doing their jobs, your staff should resist petting or otherwise distracting the dog unless their handler specifically says otherwise. That said, offering to bring a water bowl for the service dog is a way to show extra attention to that table’s guests.
Training Staff in Restaurant Accessibility
Unfortunately, many of these operational initiatives aren’t beneficial unless your business remembers to use them. Talk to your front-of-house staff about how to best serve guests with special needs.
Hosts should know to seat guests with mobility aids at tables they can comfortably access. When a server recognizes that a guest has limited or no vision, they should ask if they’d like a braille menu. On top of that, your servers should know where the braille menus are kept! Employees should set the TV to closed captioning when they turn it on. Your staff should know the protocol for guests with service dogs.
By properly preparing your employees, any guest with a disability or other special needs can feel confident they will experience great service at your restaurant.
Need to update your dining room and bathroom to be more accessible? Download our Restaurant Remodelling eBook today.
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