Creating an inclusive dining experience is a must for restaurants

By Evan Drake

Dining out is a universally enjoyed pleasure, however, for a significant number of patrons, physical barriers can diminish an otherwise delightful experience. Ensuring restaurant accessibility isn’t merely a legal obligation, it’s an imperative step in creating an inclusive space where everyone feels welcomed and valued at your business.

Understanding wheelchair requirements

Often, when we think of accessibility, our minds go directly to entrance ramps, and while they are undeniably crucial, true accessibility dives much deeper. A restaurant’s interior design plays a pivotal role in ensuring that patrons, regardless of their mobility, can navigate comfortably.

Ensuring that at least five per cent of the tables or a minimum of one table (whichever is greater) is wheelchair-accessible is a good starting point. These tables should be placed in prime locations, not just tucked away in a corner, where they might become out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Additionally, there should be ample clear floor space around these tables for smooth movement and easy access for those who need them.

The art of spacing: more than just aesthetics

The design of a restaurant’s interior plays an important role in accessibility, from the time your patrons first enter to the time they leave. Ensuring ample space between tables and aisles is paramount to accommodate diner needs. ADA guidelines suggest maintaining aisle widths of at least 36 inches where fixed seating is present.

This spacing isn’t just for wheelchair users, it benefits anyone with a need for wider aisles, from families with strollers to elderly people using walkers – not to mention your staff.  Adequate space ensures they too can move around comfortably without feeling like they’re navigating an obstacle course.

A restaurant’s layout should be dynamic. Especially during peak hours, when there might be more chairs in use and pathways can get obstructed. Staff should be trained to anticipate these situations and adjust the seating layout accordingly, always ensuring clear paths for everyone.

RELATED: Universal restaurant design is essential

Accessible menus

While the physical layout is vital, ensuring accessibility extends to other facets of the dining experience. For instance, menu design is also important. Offering large print versions or even braille menus can greatly enhance the dining experience for those with visual impairments.

Digital menus are another great addition to help increase accessibility. With technology on our side, these menus can be designed with adjustable font sizes, contrasting colours, and easy readability, catering to those with low vision or colour blindness.

 In this digital age, technology offers unique solutions to age-old challenges. Many restaurants are adopting QR codes that, when scanned, display menus on personal devices. This not only reduces the physical handling of menus but allows guests with vision impairments to adjust settings on their own devices for easier reading.

Staff training

No matter how well you design your restaurant, the human element remains essential. Staff, especially servers, play a crucial role in ensuring an inclusive and enjoyable dining experience. Training them to recognize and address specific needs is invaluable. For instance, they should understand how to approach someone using mobility aids, the best ways to communicate with hearing-impaired guests, and how to guide visually impaired patrons. Proper communication techniques, such as reading out menu items or explaining the layout of a buffet, can make a world of difference to a diner’s experience. Ensure that your staff is helping to communicate and execute that accessibility is a priority for your restaurant.

Guiding the way

Clear, comprehensive signage enhances navigability. For patrons with mobility or visual challenges, effective signage that includes tactile characters or braille can be especially helpful. Directional indicators, both visual and tactile, assist in guiding guests seamlessly throughout the establishment.

Signage also helps you avoid traffic jams which slow down your staff and irritate your guests, so make sure everything is clearly marked for smooth, easy-flowing pathways.

Embracing universal design principles

The concept of universal design revolves around creating spaces that are inherently accessible to all, regardless of age, size, ability, or disability. For restaurants, this means open floor plans, natural flow between sections, easily navigable self-serve stations, and intuitive design elements that make the experience comfortable and enjoyable for everyone.

A commitment to inclusion

At its core, ensuring restaurant accessibility is about embracing and celebrating diversity. It’s a commitment to providing an exceptional experience for every guest. By focusing on both the physical and intangible aspects of accessibility, restaurant owners not only comply with regulations but also demonstrate an unwavering commitment to inclusivity.

Every detail, from the layout to the menu design, and especially the training of the staff, communicates a message to patrons. By prioritizing accessibility, restaurants send a clear signal: everyone is welcome, valued, and celebrated here.

Evan is the Founder and CEO of Restore Mobility, a family-owned enterprise. Through an unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction and a personal touch unique to small-scale businesses, Restore Mobility connects individuals with mobility products crafted to uplift their daily lives.