In 2019, restaurants must face up to the fact that all customers aren’t the same. Whilst society as a whole finds ways to be more inclusive and aware of what makes us different, the hospitality sector must reflect this. Restaurant experiences shouldn’t be confined to a certain type of person as often the environment isn’t tailored to suit those with disabilities or dietary requirements, for example.
While most restaurants try to accommodate for disabled patrons through simple changes, such as adapting the restaurant lay-out to be wheelchair-friendly or having a disabled toilet, these seem to be the limits of their inclusivity. Restaurants must now increase their scope and understanding of inclusivity and consider how they can make the experience of dining out more accessible and enjoyable for everyone. For restaurant owners, the key to achieving this lies in their use of technology.
More informative menus
For lots of restaurants, technology is instrumental to their day-to-day operations – it allows them to take orders on hand-held devices, operate tills and take card payments. But, it can also do so much more and help facilitate a more inviting environment for people with disabilities. Among the changes that the hospitality industry should look to make to create an inclusive environment is updating their menus and making them compatible with technology. By doing this, it will make the experience of picking a dish off the menu easier for those who might be partially-sighted, for instance.
Currently, those with sight problems are given the same menu as everyone else. Often, the print on the menus will be too small and therefore difficult to read. As such, the customer has to either guess at what they would like or ask for help from a friend or the waiting staff to read the menu, which can cause some embarrassment. To make the experience more pleasant and easier for customers with sight problems, restaurants can update their menus to allow them to be interactive using a mobile app. Restaurants can then include braille at the top of the menu which explains to partially-sighted diners that they can gain more information about their dishes via an app. With applications that serve to assist near-sighted people the root to obtaining information in this way will be as familiar as reading braille.
Once the app is on their mobile, they can ‘tap’ their phone against a sticker embedded in the menu and receive a version of the menu on their device. The app will then make it easier to read the menu, putting it into a bigger font size, for instance, or enabling their device to read each item aloud to them. Alternatively, restaurants could also upload a video of each item so the customer can view what and how the dishes are prepared. By adopting this technology, customers with a disability will receive the same level of experience as any other diner. It also removes any difficulties over needing help to read the menu and ensures nobody is excluded from gaining the information they need to make a decision about what they want to eat.
Inclusivity should also extend to how restaurants cater to those with food allergies or dietary requirements. With two million people in the UK diagnosed as having a food allergy and with more Britons than ever identifying as vegan, knowing what goes into our meals has never been more important. It is, therefore, time restaurants become more accommodating and transparent in order to become truly inclusive. In this situation, the hospitality industry can use the same app technology to not only allow customers to access the menu but also the ingredients of each dish, allowing diners to know what goes into each meal and enabling them to make decisions accordingly. And as previously stated, restaurants can provide videos showing one of each dish being made – simply use a smartphone to video the chef. This offers a greater degree of transparency and you might even spawn a new celebrity chef!
A more accessible environment
Beyond updating the menu to cater for disabilities and dietary requirements, restaurants and pubs can also use technology to improve the accessibility of their establishment. This can be achieved by using an app similar to that used by Wetherspoons. The Wetherspoons app, introduced in 2017, allows customers to order and pay for food from their table. This removes the pre-existing barriers of having to go to the bar and queue so as to place an order, which can be particularly difficult and stressful for those with physical impairments. More pubs or restaurants utilising this technology could make the experience of dining out more inclusive and convenient.
It is vital that the hospitality sector recognises the need to ensure dining out isn’t an experience exclusive to a certain type of person. By adopting technology in this way, it will be possible for restaurants and pubs to encourage every customer, no matter their circumstances, to have a better experience. While adopting new technology may seem like a costly task, it will, in fact, help to attract more, and more varied, customers and will often remove some of the responsibility from staff members. For instance, all allergen information will be available via an app and therefore won’t require waiting staff to check the particulars of each dish with the kitchen. Additionally, apps allowing customers to order and pay from their table will result in fewer queues and quicker service. Ultimately, not only will the restaurant of the future be a more inclusive experience, but it is also likely to be a more enjoyable one.
By Julian Fisher, CEO of shopping and retail app, Jisp