7 ways to make your restaurant or cafe more welcoming for disabled customers

As many traditional ways of city life goes online from communicating to working, we all hope that venues where people can socialize in person continue to thrive. Members of the disabled community, many of whom benefit from the opportunities that working from home offers, depend on the real life interaction of meeting families and friends. Cafes and restaurants are the ideal places for these interactions. In many older cities however, the ability to meet easily may be compromised by poor accessibility.

Seasoned theatre goer and disability writer, Pippa Stacey shares her experiences of the leisure and entertainment industry and suggests ways that casual and formal dining venues can improve their access to people with a disability.

There’s nothing better than visiting a new cafe or restaurant and indulging in a treat. However, there are many barriers that can make people with of disabilities feel less welcome in the places they choose to visit. To help counter this, here are 7 ways to make your restaurant or café more welcoming for disabled customers:

  • Level Access

Arguably the most crucial point, your restaurant/café should be accessible for people using mobility aids. Level access is ideal, or look into safe and secure ramp or lift options if you have steps. Make sure any equipment is fit for use before putting it to the test on your customers – many disabled people have had some rather close-calls with unsafe ramps.

  • A Sensible Layout

Once inside, how easy is it for mobility aids users to manoeuvre around your property? Is there space to get from tables to counters and any other facilities? Ensuring seating areas are appropriately spaced out means that disabled visitors have the autonomy to move around the space in the same way as non-disabled customers.

  • Calm Environment

For those living with sensory overload, any trips out in public can feel overwhelming. Wherever possible, consider how your space could be made calm and welcoming – ensure background music isn’t too loud, and if you see somebody struggling, take particular care when serving or clearing up crockery or other items that might make jarring noises. You may also find it helpful to look into sound insulation materials for your property.

  • Accessible Menus

Think about whether you can offer your menus or other written information in a more accessible format. Can you provide a version in large print or in Braille for those with visual impairments? Are there any tech solutions out there that could help you?

  • Accommodate Allergies

Many people with disabilities and chronic illness have to manage multiple dietary requirements. Being able to cater for these, and ensure allergen information is clearly labelled and disclosed, can make a huge difference to somebody’s dining experience. Can you create ‘safe zones’ in your kitchen for preparing free from dishes? It’s incredibly important to be vigilant when it comes to allergies, especially for disabled people who might be even more adversely affected by reactions.

  •  Encourage Open Communication

If a disabled person approaches you with a suggestion as to how your café/restaurant could be made more accessible, one of the most powerful things you can do is be open and receptive to this feedback. It’s not an attack on you or your work – the person has approached you because they want to visit and give you their custom. Encouraging communication of this kind is mutually beneficial: disabled customers feel more welcome, and business owners can learn from their lived experiences and even reach a whole new market of consumers.

  • Give a welcoming smile!

Finally, following on from that last point, one of the most powerful things you can do is offer a warm welcome to disabled customers. Greet them with a smile and make sure they know that they belong here – with their consent, get to know them and learn how you can best meet any other needs they may have. There’s no better feeling than bonding over tea and cake!

Pippa Stacey is a Chronically ill writer and blogger, psychology graduate, book-reader and theatregoer

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