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By Katherine Pendrill
Running a restaurant is about providing guests with hospitality. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides enforceable restaurant accessibility guidelines to ensure food service establishments and other businesses are offering a hospitable environment to all customers.
The ADA is a win-win for the disabled and restaurant communities. It helps you serve guests of all abilities in the same way so that they keep coming back again and again. After all, the more accessible your restaurant, the more people you can serve.
While these are the perks to adhering to ADA guidelines for restaurants, there are also serious consequences to disregarding these federal regulations. Your first ADA violation could result in a fine of up to $75,000. You’ll owe up to $150,000 for additional violations.
Fortunately, you don’t have to read hundreds of pages of legalese to make your restaurant a welcoming place for all guests. We’ve created this restaurant accessibility guide to give you a basic understanding of how to comply with these important regulations.
Keep reading to learn:
DISCLAIMER: This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, HR, or other professional advice. You are responsible for your own compliance with laws and regulations. Contact your attorney or other relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a set of regulations that prevents the discrimination of disabled people. The ADA originated in 1990 and was updated in 2010 to clarify some of its original guidelines.
According to the ADA, a disability is a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.” That means someone who relies on a wheelchair for mobility, is blind or has low vision, is deaf, or relies on a service animal can be considered disabled, for example.
The ADA defines the accommodations needed to be made to ensure that disabled people can access employment, public services, public accommodations, services provided by private entities, and telecommunications.
You can read the text of the ADA here.
Title III of the ADA applies to restaurants, as it explains how commercial facilities need to design their facilities to meet federal accessibility standards. This section of the ADA covers topics like ease of access to entry, movement, and access to services. It makes it illegal to segregate people with disabilities from other customers.
Enforcement of the ADA for restaurants and other public accommodations falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). In order for a restaurant to receive a violation, someone needs to file a complaint through the DOJ.
Follow this checklist of the ADA’s restaurant accessibility guidelines to jump-start your compliance journey.
When it comes to mobility and seating for disabled guests, you have to think about providing accessible entry, bathrooms, and seating, as well as ample space to get around.
Here’s what the ADA says about the accessible design of menus and websites.
Section 508 of the ADA sets laws for restaurant website design accessibility, including:
While the ADA doesn’t have requirements for making menus accessible, making accommodations will help you serve guests better.
For guests with low vision, offer a Braille menu, or one that has high contrast and large font. A digital menu can be a good option. Encourage servers to read menus to guests who need assistance.
For guests with poor hearing, make sure servers have a written way of communicating with them if they don’t know American Sign Language.
In all cases, conduct disability awareness training with staff so they can be prepared to proactively accommodate all kinds of guests.
According to Title III of the ADA, “a public accommodation shall take those steps that may be necessary to ensure that no individual with a disability is excluded, denied services, segregated or otherwise treated differently than other individuals because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services.”
Restaurants, therefore, can help accommodate guests with sensory issues, such as blindness or deafness by:
Service animals are allowed in restaurants. According to the ADA, a service animal is “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”
For an animal to be a service animal, it must:
A service animal must:
A restaurant can have a no pet policy, but because service animals are not considered pets under the ADA, these dogs are allowed to accompany their handlers. Emotional support animals are not considered service animals.
Restaurant employees are allowed to ask the following questions to make sure animals entering the premises are service animals:
If the ADA contradicts local laws about animals in food service facilities (such as from the health department), you should obey the ADA because as a federal law, it supersedes local regulations.
Now you understand some of the basic guidelines for restaurant accessibility. Follow these tips to make ADA compliance simpler to implement and maintain:
Hospitality is an important part of running a restaurant. The regulations outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act are designed to help you create an inviting environment for each and every one of your customers.
Katherine is the Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, where she writes about trending topics in food and restaurants. The opposite of a picky eater, she’ll try (almost) anything at least once. Whether it’s chowing down on camel burgers in Morocco or snacking on octopus dumplings in Japan, she’s always up for new food experiences.
By Andrea Victory
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