How Restaurants Can Accommodate Individuals with Special Needs

Dining out is a large part of our culture. There’s a reason why people love it so much—it’s the best way to socialize with loved ones, connect with the community, and of course, eat delicious food.

Unfortunately, people with disabilities tend to face many obstacles when attempting to eat out at a restaurant. Reading menus, navigating walkways, and drinking from a cup may seem like second nature to many people, but can actually hinder the experience for individuals with special needs. Lack of accessibility in restaurants can lead to frustration, sensory overload, and physical barriers.

As a restaurant owner or manager, it’s important to ensure that your diners are happy and comfortable. Even the most delicious food can be overshadowed by lack of accommodations for your guests. There are a few operational changes that can make your entire dining experience pleasant and memorable—for everyone!

5 Tips for Accommodating Individuals with Disabilities at Your Restaurant

  • Avoid Architectural Barriers

    Stairs, narrow hallways, and heavy doors can be huge issues for people with mobility restrictions. Try to make your building as physically accessible as possible—look into implementing wheelchair ramps, handrails, and power-assisted doors. Don’t forget to have at least one wheelchair-friendly table at your establishment in order for all guests to dine with comfort! For more information on physical building accessibility, read our blog: Accessibility for Adults with Disabilities.

  • Provide Accessible Menus

    For people with intellectual disabilities or impaired eyesight, menus can be very difficult to read. No need to change the aesthetic or layout of your current menu—just have accessible menus on hand that are given out upon request! These menus should include large print, pictures of the food items, or even braille.

  • Keep Silverware and Straws on Hand

    It is in your best interest to ensure that all guests are able to enjoy the food that you serve. Unbeknownst to many, plasticware can be unsafe or inaccessible for people with disabilities. If your restaurant uses plastic utensils, keeping several sets of metal silverware on hand can help to accommodate those individuals! Throughout the past few years, many restaurants have nixed their plastic straws in an effort to go green. While environmentally friendly, it’s important to note that there is a large population of people who are physically unable to drink without a straw. If your establishment is straw-free, keep a few metal or glass straws in the kitchen. That way, your restaurant is simultaneously green and inclusive!

  • Dim the Lights and Lower the Sound

    Bright lights and loud sounds can cause extreme discomfort and sensory overload for many people with disabilities. Consider dimming the lights for a more subtle, cozy ambiance. If your restaurant tends to be on the louder side, turning down the music a few notches and investing in  sound dampeners would improve everyone’s dining experience!

  • Train Staff Members on Empathy, Inclusion, and Accessibility

    When training new staff on restaurant operations and procedures, it’s equally important to prepare them to accommodate all guests. Ensure that hosts are knowledgeable about your restaurants’ special menus, protocol for service dogs, and wheelchair-friendly tables. Ensure that waiters and waitresses know how to appropriately communicate with people of all abilities.

Restaurants gain respect when their food is delicious and their service is welcoming. All guests deserve to sit back and relax when dining out—that’s why accommodation and accessibility is so important. Simple changes can make a world of a difference for someone. Plus, they’re more likely to come back for more!

Covey Connects Introduces: Meaningful Meals!

We are so happy to introduce our new Covey Connects program, Meaningful Meals! Covey participants are invited to share a meal and meaningful conversation with local restaurant owners at their establishment. This gives individuals with disabilities the opportunity to advocate for themselves, while educating restaurant owners and staff on inclusion, empathy, and understanding.

Meaningful Meals allows both Covey participants and local restaurants to create community connections. Adults with disabilities will foster personal growth by exploring different cultures, gain familiarity with the process of gratuity, and better understand the type of work that goes into running a restaurant. Overall, Meaningful Meals encourages growth and education for individuals with disabilities, restaurants, and the community as a whole. Together, we will make the community more welcoming and inclusive!

For additional information about our new program, contact us.