When it comes to inclusivity in the hospitality industry, making your restaurant accessible extends way beyond including allergens on the menu. For many, problems can arise before they’ve even made it through the door.
Although delicious food, fantastic service and great company are important when choosing to dine out, a comfortable and inviting interior is paramount. Being able to manoeuvre around the room, whether that’s for a trip to the bathroom or to head towards your table, shouldn’t be a cause for concern. However, for those with mobility issues, it might not be as simple as you think.
Making your restaurant accessible doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, a few small changes can make all the difference. From installing ramps and lifts to rearranging your floorplan, find out how you can make dining out for your customers with mobility issues more positive in this guide.
Whether you’re a spacious restaurant nestled in the heart of the countryside or a bustling business in the heart of the capital, ensuring that your guests can navigate their way through a sea of tables is vital. Tables packed tightly together or positioned at an angle can make access difficult at the best of times; however, when you introduce a wheelchair user into the mix, this can become almost impossible.
When visiting a restaurant, locating the bathroom can sometimes be difficult, especially as these are often tucked away. This is something that Emma from the blog The Cheshire Wife believes is crucial: “I have a hidden disability and can’t walk far. For me, having toilets on the same level makes a huge difference to a dining experience”. It’s important to consider where this room is positioned in your building, as you will need to ensure that there is a clear path to this at all times.
Looking at how and where your customers will move through the restaurant, you can start to create your floorplan. Circular tables take up more space, so swapping them for rectangle tables will open up some room and the installation of booths means that wheelchair users can sit comfortably at the end.
You may sometimes feel restricted by the size and capacity of your restaurant and although more customers equal more profit, your diners need to feel comfortable whilst eating. Under the Equality Act 2010, businesses should make anticipatory changes to things such as stairs and toilets that might present problems for those with disabilities. Even though structural changes such as the widening of doors and making access to other levels of the building may seem unnecessary, they should be done ahead of time in compliance with this law.
Although it may be hard to visualise how a lift can be incorporated your floorplan, you can enlist in the help of a platform lift company to offer insight. Watching a restaurant installation video can help provide you with a better idea of how a lift will fit in your space, adding value to the restaurant whilst also helping customers feel more independent. For restaurants with features such as rooftop bars and patios, it can sometimes be hard for those with low mobility or in wheelchairs to access these, especially if the only access is granted by a steep flight of stairs, so a lift is an essential feature.
When assessing the accessibility of your restaurant, you need to think outside the box and take a look at the outside in addition to what is happening inside. Step-free access isn’t always possible and uneven pavements, steep steps and minimal parking can negatively impact your customer experience. One of the easiest ways to fix this is by purchasing a folding ramp that can be safely, quickly and efficiently installed to assist people when visiting. Alternatively, if the building has another entrance, some effective signage can help them with where to go.
If you recommend your guests with low mobility use an alternative entrance, this should not be an afterthought. A similar style in décor and presentation will help put your diners at ease and stop them from feeling as though they’ve entered through a service door.
There are many quick fixes that can be made to help your business become more accessible. We spoke to Jen, a family and lifestyle blogger from the blog Just Average Jen, who shared that “quieter areas for those with invisible disabilities such as autism”, is a feature that she would love more restaurants to have. Jupiter, who owns the gaming blog Jupiter Hadley, also offered some insight into things that could help improve people’s experiences when dining out: “Pictures clearly labelled on the menu, as well as labels for specific allergens as well would be a great addition”.
Large signs in an easy-to-read font can be useful for those who are visually impaired and can help to provide information for people who are deaf or hard of hearing; having print materials that are readily available, as well as some that are in Braille, prevents your customers from feeling alienated and helps your restaurant to become more inclusive. Plus, including information such as your menus online helps people to make choices ahead of time whilst familiarising themselves with what is on offer.
Although mood and atmosphere can have an influence on the overall environment of your restaurant, dim lights and loud music can lead to accessibility issues. Consider having areas of your website where the lighting is a bit brighter. Similarly, having a few tables situated away from speakers can help those who have hidden disabilities and may struggle with loud noises.