Eight ways to welcome restaurant guests with disabilities

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By Diane Chiasson 
Ways to welcome restaurant guests with disabilities

Nearly 15 per cent of Canada’s population has a disability, so chances are many of your customers who come into your restaurant or foodservice operation may require some extra or special attention.

There are many different types of disabilities including deaf-blind, hearing, developmental, learning, mental health, physical, speech or language, or vision. Some can be obvious, some not so much. You and your staff should be trained on how to welcome and serve guests with disabilities to avoid any situations that might embarrass the guest or your staff, and to make your guests feel as welcome as possible.

Diane Chiasson, FCSI, President of Chiasson Consultants Inc., a restaurant and foodservice consultancy firm in Toronto offers the following tips to ensure that guests with disabilities enjoy their experience at your operation:

1. Treat people with disabilities with respect and consideration

First and foremost, treat anyone with a disability with respect and consideration. Make sure you do not single them out or make them feel unwelcome or out of place. Allow your guests to be independent and enjoy their experience at your operation with dignity. Be patient, smile and keep a relaxed composure as not to make your guest feel uncomfortable. Show that you are confident, open and willing to find a way to make your guests as welcome as possible.

2. Ask first before helping

Even though you may mean well by trying to jump in and help right away, it is better to ask customers with disabilities if they need help and how you can help them. Never assume that a guest with a disability cannot do something by him or herself, or pre-judge his/her abilities.

3. Ways to communicate

Many guests with disabilities may take longer to understand or respond to your questions. Speak directly to your guest and always make eye contact. Make sure that you are patient, and if you are having difficulty communicating, don’t pretend that you understand what they are saying. Just ask again. Be sure to speak normally in short sentences, and talk directly to your guest. Don’t yell or shout. Have a pen and paper handy in case writing is a better way to communicate. Try to ask questions that can be easily answered with a yes or a no, and try not to interrupt or finish your customer’s sentences. Be patient and wait for them to finish.

4. Don’t touch assistive devices or service animals

Unless it is an emergency, do not touch any assistive devices like wheelchairs, walkers, oxygen tanks, canes, crutches, etc. or any service animals, unless you have been instructed to do so. More often than not, people with physical disabilities have their own ways of doing things, so it is better to first ask what they would like to do with their assistive devices or service animals than to take it upon yourself to move these items.

5. Choose the right words to use

Avoid using the word “handicap” or referring to a disability as something that should be pitied. Always put the person first – for example, instead of saying “disabled person”, you should say “person with disability.” Never make a person with a disability feel like an inferior person.

6. Provide guests with useful information

If your restaurant or foodservice operation is equipped with accessible washrooms, automatic doors, or other accessibility features like elevators and ramps, tell your customers this information. Do not wait for your customers to figure this out themselves.

7. Fulfill special requests

Some guests with disabilities will require some special requests from the kitchen like meat cutting, or additional straws. Try to accommodate these requests as politely and inconspicuously as possible.

8. Welcome guests with disabilities on your website

Many potential customers with disabilities may check your website first to see if it is possible for them to dine in your restaurant or foodservice operation. State on your website what accessibility features you offer and that you and your staff are properly trained to serve any guests with disabilities.

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About the author:

Diane Chiasson, FSCI, president of Chiasson Consultants Inc., is recognized as the world’s best restaurant, foodservice, merchandising, hospitality and retail consultant based in Toronto. She has been helping restaurant, foodservice, hospitality and retail operators increase sales for over 30 years.Her company provides innovative and revenue-increasing consulting services including restaurant and retail merchandising, interior design, marketing, brand identity, menu design and training. 

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