Expert-Approved Accessibility Guidelines for Restaurants, Cafes, and Eateries

November 26, 2019 BY JACLYN LEDUC

People with disabilities are just like everyone else: They love dining out, and restaurant accessibility ensures that they’re able to do so enjoyably. But what exactly do accessible restaurants look like?

 

 

The Basics of Restaurant Accessibility

Restaurants, cafes, and eateries are places of public accommodation and are therefore subject to comply with Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Restaurants must do all they can do to provide a barrier-free experience for customers with disabilities.

Tomatoes on the vine in watercolor painting.

Even if a restaurant can’t be 100 percent accessible or is on the road toward better accessibility, “Clarity counts for a lot.” If someone with a disability calls asking about accessible features, the restaurant should, at the very least, be able to provide the correct information. Displaying accurate accessibility information on websites and restaurant review sites like Yelp is a huge help for those who rely on that information.

Most restaurants don’t hesitate to organize menus that provide clarity to people with dietary restrictions. The same principle goes for accessibility practices. It would serve any restaurant well to consider a diverse set of customers. The more accessible a restaurant is, the more customers they will get. Plain and simple.

Restaurant accessibility is about providing a space for disabled people that makes them feel welcome and valued as customers and as people.

Make Room for Mobility

Providing an environment that is conducive to mobility is a fundamental aspect of restaurant accessibility. When structuring the layout of a restaurant, restaurants should ensure that patrons who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids or have service animals can move through spaces easily.

Path of travel

The path of travel near or to self-serve stations, seating areas, ordering and pick-up counters, and restrooms should be clear of any obstacles. Provide plenty of room so that people with disabilities don’t run into physical barriers.

Whole artichoke in watercolor painting.

Seating

Restaurants should always provide several areas of accessible seating throughout the space, particularly for wheelchair or scooter users. Tables should be no higher than 34 inches, and there should be at least 27 inches of clear space beneath the table to accommodate those who use wheelchairs and scooters. If needed, chairs or tables should be removed to offer a comfortable space for those using wheelchairs or scooters.

Mobility Devices

One should never touch, relocate, or remove a mobility device without first asking the user of the device. Reserve storage space in case someone requests that their mobility device be stored away while they dine.

Accessible Items and Resources

In addition to the physical layout of spaces, restaurant accessibility means that businesses must provide tools and resources that support a more enjoyable and comfortable experience for people with disabilities.

Title III of the ADA: How Does it Apply to Hotels, Restaurants, and Businesses?

Marc Dubin, former Senior Trial Attorney of the US Department of Justice and CEO of ADA Expertise Consulting, discusses the most common violations of the ADA that hotels, restaurants, and other businesses must address.

Watch the Free Webinar ➡️

Menus and More

If offering a buffet, be sure to provide a menu at the front of the line so that those with dietary restrictions can feel confident in what they put on their plates. Make sure that menus have appropriate color contrast (black text on a white background works well), large print, and no glare. If possible, keep several braille menus on hand in case a patron requests one.

In recent times, banning of the plastic straw has picked up speed. However, some people with disabilities cannot lift or hold cups or beverages and therefore rely on straws to drink. Even if you do not give out plastic straws to every patron, keep some disposable, bendable straws on hand for customers who need it.

Websites

Accessibility isn’t just for physical spaces. It’s for virtual places too. “Blind people use screen-reading software to listen to a webpage or read it on a connected braille device,” says Haben Girma, a deaf-blind American disability rights advocate who likes to read through menus before arriving at restaurants. Barrier-free websites are vital for effective restaurant accessibility.

In addition, providing accessibility information directly on the website helps people with disabilities to feel prepared and confident when visiting new restaurants.

Provide Knowledgeable Staff

If a disabled person or older individual ever needs assistance, the restaurant staff must be trained to take the appropriate steps.

Rainbow carrots in watercolor painting.

People who are blind or low vision may need assistance in reading the menu or being directed to the restrooms and self-serve areas. Those who are deaf or hard of hearing may need to communicate in writing or use other means of communication. Persons who have service animals or mobility aids may require help carrying items to and from self-serve areas and tables.

In these types of scenarios, it’s useful for the staff to be knowledgeable about how to help people with disabilities. With proper training, the team will feel confident that they can assist customers appropriately and professionally.

Service Animals 101

Too often, people with disabilities face discrimination when entering a restaurant with their service animal. Most restaurants prohibit pets from dining with customers indoors, but service animals are not equivalent to pets. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that places of public accommodation, such as restaurants, provide entry to people with service animals.

If a person with a service animal enters your restaurant, you may ask them two questions: Is the animal service animal required due to a disability? What work or task is the animal trained to perform? That’s it. Restaurants may not turn customers away for having a service animal.

Restaurants may not ask the person what their disability is for that is a violation of their rights. Also, note that the patron is not required to show any certification for the animal. Having trained restaurant staff that are aware of service animal protocol helps to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities.

Restaurant Spotlight

Mozzeria pizza boxes filled with fresh Margherita pizza.

Mozzeria is a deaf-owned Neopolitan pizzeria in San Francisco, CA, and it’s one of Haben Girma’s favorites. Mozzeria focuses on providing delicious food and has rave reviews from the press and happy customers. Mozzeria provides jobs for the deaf community, and they don’t skimp on restaurant accessibility. Their restaurant offers video relay services, visual ringing systems, and an accessible online reservation tool. Because of Mozzeria’s commitment to accessibility, both hearing and non-hearing individuals can enjoy their delicious specialty pizza.


Want to learn more about restaurant accessibility under the law? Watch the webinar below, Title III of the ADA: How Does it Apply to Hotels, Restaurants, and Businesses?

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