It’s Friday afternoon and Amy is excited to take her friend out to celebrate her birthday. They have their hearts set on girly cocktails and steamed crab legs, so they head to a nearby seafood restaurant. Pulling up, Amy notices the stairs leading to the entrance. She realizes right away she will not be able to make it into the restaurant. Amy is disabled and has difficulty walking. She uses a rollator to assist her and sometimes a wheelchair.
One out of five adults in the U.S. has a disability, according to a study published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The most common disability is mobility limitation. Defined as “serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs”, mobility limitation is often overlooked in restaurants.
“One statistic states that 85 percent of the disability community won’t go out to eat, due to restaurants not being accessible, and the anxiety created when people fear how they’ll be treated or perceived.”
– David Freidman, author of the blog The Disabled Foodie.
A restaurant or the municipality is required to have certain accessibilities, handicapped parking spots being the most obvious.
Here are some other accessibilities guaranteed to make a person physically challenged more comfortable in your establishment.
Stairs and narrow and obstructed walkways make it impossible for Amy to gain entrance into the restaurant.
Wide, sturdy curb ramps allow easier access. A portable ramp can be used along with a doorbell or intercom system to alert staff when a customer needs assistance. Keep in mind, a person using a rollator or a walker might not be able to walk up a long and winding ramp. Short, sturdy ramps leading straight to the entrance work best.
Once a customer has reached the entrance, the doors often pose another problem. Large double doors and automatic doors are ideal.
Often, doors can be heavy or close too quickly. A customer doesn’t have to be in a wheelchair to find these types of doors difficult. If your establishment has difficult doors, train your staff to be attentive and offer friendly, prompt assistance.
Now assume Amy made it inside the restaurant. The host leads her to her table but the walkways are narrow and the chairs from other tables are obstructing her path. The host walks ahead, leaving Amy to struggle through the patrons sitting at the tables.
A planned route to a designated section of tables in the restaurant makes an easier trek. Plants, boxes, high chairs, and other items need to be stored or placed with this in mind.
Additionally, tables need to be high enough for a wheelchair or a rollator to fit underneath. 9 times out of 10, a person would rather sit in his or her wheelchair or rollator while dining.
Restroom entryways and stalls must be wide enough for wheelchair accessibility. A wheelchair needs to have enough space to make an 180-degree turn. What good is having a handicapped stall if the path to get there is too narrow?
Railing on both sides of the stall is equally important. Many disabled people have a hard time holding his or her own weight and need the support of both arms. Raised toilet seats should also be considered.
Other types of disabilities require service animals to accompany a customer for assistance.
Many people with vision disabilities have problems reading menus or determining which is the male or female restroom. These are other issues to keep in mind when setting up and designing your restaurant.
A restaurant should have specific accessibilities listed on its website, as well as certain limitations. No one wants to arrive only to find out he or she is unable to make it to the front door.
In other cases, a person with a disability can’t enter the restaurant at all, as in Amy’s case. This is where impeccable customer service comes in.
Realizing she would not be able to get into the restaurant, she called the restaurant and spoke to the manager. She explained the situation and asked if they provided curbside service. To her surprise, the manager happily accommodated Amy and her friend. He brought them out menus and drinks. When they received their food, he made sure their drinks were refilled. After learning about the birthday celebration, the manager brought out free desserts!
This great customer service ensures Amy spreads a good word and is a repeat customer.
Good food, friendly staff, and a fuss-free dining experience for a physically challenged person will put money in your pocket.
“A business owner can increase the volume of his business, simply by offering an accessible venue and having a courteous wait staff who doesn’t treat a disabled person like they’re aliens from outer space. We can help put dollars in his pocket by making this population of disabled persons aware of this restaurant,”
– David Freidman.