How Should Restaurant Staff Interact With Customers Who Are Blind Or Visually Impaired?

October 21, 2016

Whether just for fun or for an important get together, everyone enjoys eating out at restaurants. Most people go to restaurants without giving it second thought, but those of us with who are blind or visually impaired often have to do some extra planning. We might want to, at the very least, find out some of the dishes on the menu in advance, so we can begin thinking about our choices. I have previously discussed Braille and accessible restaurant menus, but there are other suggestions that can help wait staff better serve clients with vision loss.

  • Always greet customers the moment they enter the restaurant. If the person asks for assistance getting to the waiting area or table, offer your arm to guide them. This is called the sighted guide technique. The person will gently grab your arm just above the elbow, and walk a couple steps behind you. Some customers might prefer to follow you instead– always ask the person how they would like to be assisted.
  • Introduce yourself to customers as soon as you take their order. I find this to be particularly helpful if I am on my own or with other friends who are blind or visually impaired. Also, be sure to tell us when and where you put drinks, silverware, condiments or food. Often when a waiter brings my drink, I have no idea where it is, and I have to ask whoever is with me, or do some “exploring” around the table.
  • Although some restaurants have Braille menus and I appreciate it when staff offers me one, not everyone who is blind or visually impaired can read Braille. Offer to read the menu to customers who are blind or visually impaired, especially if they are on their own. A lot of times when I’m at a restaurant with family or friends, I will ask them to read the menu to me. If a restaurant has a menu on its website, I might have already looked at it beforehand.
  • Ask us directly what we want. I (and other friends with visual impairments) have had the all too common scenario where wait staff will ask whoever is with us what we will have to eat. Like anyone else, we are perfectly capable of answering and deciding for ourselves. Also, speak in a normal tone – we can hear you perfectly fine.
  • Ask customers if they would like you to read the check to them. This is especially helpful to me when I am on my own, or with a group of friends who are also blind or visually impaired.
  • If a customer is paying with a credit card, be sure to show them where to sign the receipt. People with vision loss have different methods for signing their name, which you can learn about on this page. Also, if a customer pays with cash, it might be helpful to let them know what change you are handing them back.

These simple tips will help wait staff at restaurants better serve and create a positive dining experience for customers with vision loss. What other suggestions do you have for restaurant or other personnel for interacting with customers who are blind or visually impaired? Please share your ideas below!

sandy speaking

Sandy Murillo works at The Chicago Lighthouse, an organization serving the blind and visually impaired. She is the author of Sandy’s View, a bi-weekly Lighthouse blog about blindness and low vision. The blog covers topics of interest to those living with blindness and vision impairments. Being a blind journalist and blogger herself, Sandy shares her unique perspective about ways to live and cope with vision loss.

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