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.

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