Serving Blind Customers at a Restaurant?

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A table setting with food and drinks, with a person leaning out of view. The words "make a difference today," are overlaid.

Understand What it’s Like for Your Customers with Blindness [An Overview]

If you work in the restaurant or hospitality industry, you’ve seen it all; all kinds of people come through your doors and eat at your tables. You’ve seen impatient jerks, nice guys, great tippers, one-penny tip leaving insulters, and probably even your share of last minute “tables for fifty, please!” But just for a moment, let’s talk specifically about the customers that while you probably have seen them, they might not have seen you. I’m speaking about serving blind customers – or more appropriately: how you can serve your customers who are blind (and why that differentiation is important).

Can you recall a time recently when you had guests in your restaurant who were blind or visually impaired? Were you caught off-guard, or left wondering what the best way to serve them was? Did you notice that some of the people you work with were starting to act like this was an awkward event, or maybe their behavior was just plain embarrassing?

In an attempt to help with situations like that, here’s a bit of info about what you can do to better connect with and serve your guests who have a visual impairment. Then maybe the next time that you’ve got a co-worker who’s acting a fool, you can lead the charge at your restaurant in welcoming all guests equally. With approximately 2.5 million people in the United States alone that are legally blind (according to ADA.gov), and many more people with a visual impairment of some kind, it’s increasingly more likely that you’ll find yourself in this exact situation.

A large collection of Lego people, with the words "There are approximately 2.5 million people in the United States alone that are legally blind.

“Try Walking a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes
– Don’t Forget a White Cane!”

It’s long been held that if you want to understand someone truly, you need to walk a mile in their shoes. So keep reading if you’d like to walk a proverbial mile in the shoes of someone with a visual disability and we’ll go over a typical restaurant experience, oh and don’t forget to bring a white cane!

Imagine you’re headed out for a night of fun with some of your friends, just like every other night, it takes what seems like forever to agree where to eat. At this point you know there’s only a couple of places you’ll agree on, even though all your friends say “we can go wherever,” you know they’re lying—because someone’s far too picky for that! But tonight, someone’s feeling adventurous and you all decide on a new place that you’ve never been before.

You and your friends all load up into a car and head to the restaurant. Your friend is driving, but from the way they’re doing it while just chit-chatting alone, you’re really hoping they don’t also decide to get a drink while you’re out. You arrive at the restaurant and while walking into the lounge and then getting seated, you can’t help but wonder how anyone gets around in those tiny aisles, let alone people with low vision who may be swinging a white cane in front of them.

The restaurant is loud, the place is hopping, on top of that you’ve been seated near the bar and apparently there’s a big game on tonight. On your table you find an array of cardboard cutouts and laminated plastics sheets all sticking out of the centerpiece, nice pieces of marketing and advertising that were likely very expensive and time-consuming, all of which are completely worthless to you. After shoving those to the side of the table as best as you can, your friends all start talking about what look’s good on the menu.

The server shows up to take drink orders and you ask if they’ve got a braille menu that you could read. He informs your friend (and not you) that they don’t have any braille menus available, that he knows of, but he could read the specials out loud if that would help. You tell the server that would help, but instead, ask if they just have a chicken sandwich and fries. You did that so everyone at your table won’t have to listen to the server yell out details about their Deluxe Jumbo-Wumbo Beefy Burger and new Banana Fries, or the million other things that are on the menu that no one wants to hear read aloud for the next 15 minutes straight.

A burger and fries topped with lots of condiments, with the words "Banana Fries??" overlaid on top.

While the food is getting prepared in the kitchen, you decide to wash up in the restroom. Now, I’m not going into the details here but if you’ve ever walked around in a public restroom with your eyes closed, most people would agree that it’s not much an experience to want to write about. Suffice to say there are a few things about that whole experience that could be far more accessible and hygienic for everyone.

When you get back to your table, you realize that your drink’s been refilled, which is great. However, in refilling it your server also moved it from where you left it and you almost spilled the drink while trying to find it. When your food arrives, for whatever reason the server talks only to your friend again about your food and hands the person sitting to your right your set of silverware. You decide not to make a big deal of it so as to not ruin your night out with friends, but can’t help but think it’s weird that people perceive your visual impairment has something to do with your hearing.

After your meal is finished, you ask your friend to tell you what the bill says you owe – and you offer to pay because you and your wife are celebrating having just moved your son off to college. You sign your own signature, begrudgingly leave a tip, and head back home after navigating an obstacle course of seating on your way out the door.

That’s just one example of the kinds of experiences that people who are blind or visually impaired might experience at a restaurant. It’s not like this for every person or every restaurant. In fact, many restaurants are very accommodating and considerate towards all of their guests, regardless of sight levels. But in general, it’s easy to see there’s a lot of room for improvement. If the dining experience is hard for your customers, then it’s going to be a problem for your restaurant.

A walkway in sand heading toward a beach, with the words "Try walking in someone else's shoes. -Don't forget a white cane!"

Tips on What to Improve

In many cases being more accessible is not just helpful to people with a disability, but it’s also good for business. When you treat guests well and they have a good time, they’re far more likely to come back; that’s customer service boiled down to one sentence and it holds true regardless of level of eyesight. Imagine the impact having Braille Menus has on other sighted guests when they see your restaurant is caring and considerate to customers with disabilities. With that in mind, here are some tips on understanding those pain points from the story and some ways that you can help:

Problem: If having tiny aisles wasn’t something that you considered as a problem before, just think of how many times you could barely get by someone while carrying a tray or a pitcher of drinks. Not having space to use assistive devices can be frustrating for some, but being cramped and not having clear walking paths can make everyone frustrated.

Fix: Try clearing aisles regularly of any obstructions, asking any guests to pick up purses or other belongings, pushing in unused chairs and moving tables out of the aisles, and by keeping floors clean and free of any unnecessary equipment.

If you notice that your guests are visually impaired, you could also offer to read them any of those promotional materials that the company has intentionally been promoting to your guests. Makes sense, right? These things were created to help boost sales, so why not keep up that focus and include even those guests who just need it in a different format?

Problem: Sometimes it’s easier just to stick to a safe meal that you know will be good, this is especially true when you can’t read about the specials or read the format that the menus comes in.

Fix: Try telling your managers about Braille Restaurant Menus. It’s the same content, the same message, the same menu items, just in a way that’s actually useful for your customers who are blind. Letting your guests know about new items, specials, and drink options has traditionally been accomplished through the menu, so doesn’t it make sense to continue doing what works and open up that option to more people?

Problem: Moving items around on the table without letting the guest know you did.

Fix: It’s completely reasonable to do this; you’ve got a job to do after all. But if you would just let the guest know when you walk up, what you’re doing, and where you place things, it would go a long way in providing stellar customer service.

Problem: Not speaking to the person directly. Think about it, please!

Fix: Not everyone does this, but unfortunately it happens more often than you’d think. By speaking directly to the person you’re talking to, you let that person know that you care about them and are including them in what’s going on. If you’re ever uncertain about something, just ask that person, please don’t assume that someone else speaks for them or is their guardian. Remember, always put the person first and then their disability. You’re not “serving blind customers” but serving people, who just so happen to be blind.

Conclusion and Summary

There are a lot of restaurants out there that really care for their guests and work hard to make it an accessible and inclusive place for everyone. There’s many more that feel the same way but haven’t given it much thought yet about how to become a place that really shows they care, or maybe they just don’t know where to start.

If you work for a place that wants to start making a difference in meaningful ways to your customers who are blind, here are some quick and easy things to remember:

  • Clean up your walkways, aisles, and restroom. Everyone can benefit from a clean and unobstructed dining experience.
  • Look into Braille Restaurant Menus for your restaurant. A quick Google search will turn up lots of results for you to pursue. I work for one such company that could help you out and if you have any questions about the process, or what’s involved, I’m happy to help in whatever way I can.
  • No sneaking up and moving things, please! While being an unseen helper is viewed as polite in most dining settings, it can cause confusion if your guests don’t know you’re there. Let the guest know when you walk up, what you’re doing, and where you place things, it would go a long way in providing stellar customer service.
  • Talk directly to the person you’re serving. If you end up having any questions or want to know the best way to help, just ask.

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This post was written by Braille Works

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