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Accommodating Guests with Disabilities

One way to expand your business is to be on the leading edge of growing markets. According to the World Bank, one billion people (15% of the world’s population) experience some form of disability, with one-fifth (between 110 million and 190 million people) experiencing significant disabilities. With medical advances people are living longer in general and will likely need  accommodations.

What can you do to make sure your restaurant is as welcoming and physically accessible to the greatest segment of the population?

Keep People With Disabilities in Mind when Planning or Building out Your Space

Steps and stairs are roadblocks for many. Consider ways to design your space with accessibility in mind. Doorways should be large enough to accommodate wheelchairs.  Sturdy furniture helps those that need to lean on a steady table or chair to get up. Chairs that accommodate people of any size, and can be moved away from a table create access for those who choose to dine in a wheelchair. Wide doors to access your washrooms are necessary, as well as enough space for the person with the disability and a caretaker if needed. Security bars welded firmly to the walls are helpful for many people. In addition to air hand dryers, have hand towels available for those that cannot use an apparatus where a button needs to be pushed or hands need to be placed inside the receptacle. Ask your vendors what products they can recommend to you that will accommodate the most people. Making your washrooms gender neutral is an easy way to accommodate all, no need to wait for a regulation to be stipulated.

Technological Tools Help

Set the font on your table top tablet to a large size font that many people will be able to read easily. It just may help your patrons make their selections quickly. If there is an audio option, let your patron know about it. Photographs are an easy way to communicate menu selections and communicate easily to people where English is a second language or world travelers. Remember, here too, to ask your suppliers what technological advancements they might have to offer as you upgrade your technology.

Train your Staff to be Aware

The greeting at the Host stand sets the stage for an exceptional experience. Remind your Host and Servers to address all patrons when welcoming them into your restaurant, especially if someone is with a caretaker.  If a patron is in a wheelchair, ask if they’d like to dine in the chair. If the patron is using a cane or a walker after the patron is seated ask if removing the aid would allow them to better enjoy their meal. Let them know the server or busser will bring it back whenever they are ready. While your staff may be aware other patrons may not be. If a therapy animal is present, your staff should readily intrude if a child or patron attempts to engage with the animal. A great line to use is “that animal has a job and is working right now. We cannot play with or pet it”

Measure Your Success

JJ’s List, in Chicago, is a firm that provides training with disability players to help organizations understand how to successfully interact with this growing segment of the marketplace. JJ’s List offers a rating system using a emoticon system for people with disabilities to rate establishments on the following criteria:

  • Was the Business physically accessible
  • Helpful with assistance or accommodation
  • Welcoming & Friendly
  • An employer of people with disabilities
  • Respectful
  • Did the staff provide flexible service
  • Give Choices
  • Meet your needs
  • Give extra time
  • Talk directly to the person with the disability

 Wise use of planning, technology and training to accommodate the needs of this growing population will unquestionably affect your bottom line with increased business.  

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