SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE?
With so much talk about embracing diversity these days, our restaurants could do some extra soul-searching to be truly inclusive
Do our restaurants need some extra soul-searching to be truly inclusive?
The F&B scene in Singapore is vibrant and jumping. We’re riding a huge happy wave with great restaurants, fabulous and funky hipster cafes, world class wine and cocktail bars opening up every day. We are putting ourselves ever more firmly on the world’s great map of gastronomy. The vibe is like a never-ending party, and everyone, from the professionals and the press to passionate foodies are partaking of the pie, delighting in the knowledge that they are a part of this glorious scene. The phrase “there’s something for everyone” seems to underlie it all—but I’m not sure if that’s always the case.
I had not noticed this until a few years ago when my father fell ill. Coming out of a three-month stay in the hospital much weakened, he needed a wheelchair when going out, and navigating stairs was almost impossible. That meant that when we went out for meals as a family, being able to get a wheelchair into the restaurant was very important. That not only meant that tables had to be spaced far apart enough to let a wheelchair through, but that there was a route that we could take from the car to the table unhindered. Stairs, and even the three or four steps up a split-level was a problem. More than that, we also had to consider if facilities and amenities were equally accessible. In the end, we had to narrow our choices down to just a few that checked all the boxes. And there weren’t many.
Which got me thinking about so many other families in the same situation. While some restaurants claim to be wheelchair-friendly, it extends no further than its main door. As if the wheelchair, along with its occupant, vanishes the moment it passes that invisible line. So how inclusive is our restaurant scene, really? For an industry that’s pushing the envelope so far, so boldly and so successfully in many other areas, could it not do better in being more inclusive, giving a thought to others in a genuine, real and practical way?
May I suggest restaurant managers get on a wheelchair or a set of crutches, and try to meander their way comfortably from both car park and main door of the building (not just the restaurant) to the table? And then again to the restroom and do the deed, and see how you fare with the journeys? Only from this perspective can one really appreciate what it means to be disabled-friendly.
So I always remember with much appreciation that Summer Pavilion at the Ritz Carlton Millenia Singapore has a nifty lift right by the restaurant entrance, which helped us navigate the few steps up to the dining room, and that the rest of the restaurant was on one even plane. With restaurant guides and reviews, it won’t be a bad idea too to include a note on this topic: is the establishment disabled-friendly?
With hardware in place, staff training must follow. If we truly want to boast about having a worldclass restaurant scene, then make service good and enlightened for everyone. Just because someone’s in a wheelchair or on crutches, or is slow to walk, for instance, does not make him and his party less intelligent or less able to foot the bill. Has anyone noticed how, when faced with an older customer for instance, service staff tend to talk much slower, much louder and use hand gestures? Or worse, talked over? When I am out in restaurants with my 80-plus-yearold mother, I notice that nine out of 10 times, the menu is given to me only and all information directed to me. Why does that happen? Why not talk to both of us? If one were truly honest with themselves, the answer would not be nice. Don’t stereotype the old or the physically challenged.
I am sure harm is not intended, but ignorance or being oblivious to one’s own behaviour in a service situation is just as bad. And that’s where training really must come in, if we are to have an inclusive, truly stellar restaurant scene.