Sunday, January 20, 2008

Dear Waitress/Waiter

[This post was submitted as part of the upcoming disability blog carnival. The next blog carnival will be at Ryn Tales on January 24th. The Theme is "what professionals should know about disability", so I wrote about some things to know when dealing with a customer with a disability.]

I left you this note by my plate because I wanted to tell you a few things before you deal with the next customer with a disability. Consider this a cheat sheet, that you can also share with your colleagues and other service providers.

Things to Know When Dealing with a Customer with a Disability

1. Talk to the person directly, not to the person with him/her. Listen, rather than interrupt, if the person asks for accommodations (such as seating that is comfortable with a mobility device, a place to put his/her mobility device, or having his/her food cut up. Do not try to force a customer to sit in an assigned handicapped area because mobility devices and peoples' needs and wants vary). If you can't solve the issue, please check with management. Keep in mind that these requests are key to the consumer's positive dining experience and should not be treated as frivolous or unreasonable.

2. Don't ask the person intrusive questions such as how he/she became disabled while you're serving them. The person is there to eat, and such questions are not only inappropriate, but detract from the dining experience.

3. Do not touch, push, or otherwise handle the person's assistive or mobility devices without permission, even if you deem them to be "in the way". Most people in wheelchairs consider it a breach of personal space to have their wheelchair touched. Do not pet a guide dog because it distracts the animal from doing his/her job.

4. If your restaurant does not provide Braille menus, do not rush a table where someone is reading the menu to a visually impaired customer. Offer to read the specials and menu to blind customers so they know what to order or, if you can't do this, get a staff member who can.

5. Check back during the meal to see if accommodations have been made or a satisfactory resolution has been reached so that the person can enjoy his/her dining experience. Do not avoid or ignore the situation as if it will go away. Also don't offer your opinion as to whether the request for accommodation is reasonable or try to talk the person out of the request.

6. Be careful where and how you set down plates, particularly hot plates. I've been burned when wait people have put plates half off and on the table, partly because I can't feel temperatures and also because the plate was not on the table, but only perching on it. This is also true of hot beverages. Injury can also result if you say 'Please move' and immediately set a plate down without giving a person with a disability extra time he/she may need to move.

I'm going home now with a take home bag of food so I can eat in peace. My left elbow is burned and my wheelchair was bumped during the meal numerous times because my request to move to a spot where it wouldn't be jutting out wasn't taken seriously, even though spots were available. Moreover I didn't appreciate it when you laughed at me when I asked you to tell the kitchen to cut up my food so I could eat it.

I doubt I'll be back to this restaurant because I like to spend my money where I can have a comfortable and enjoyable dining experience. In that sense and many others, I'm just like other customers who come into this restaurant to eat. Have a nice day.