With restaurants across the country redefining themselves in the wake of the past year’s upheaval, there is a unique opportunity to take inventory of much more than just your walk-in fridge. Many of our restaurant partners are examining how the industry can be more welcoming for those who had previously been left behind. With this ongoing Inclusivity Series, we aim to showcase creative ways that leading restaurants and organizations are fostering respect and equality for underrepresented staff and guests. We’ll provide actionable steps to ensure inclusivity is more than just a convenient buzzword.
Although the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed more than 30 years ago, countless people still struggle to find positive service experiences when dining. Honoring Disability Pride Month, we’ll share expert advice from consultants, bloggers, entrepreneurs, and restaurant owners who are working to enact positive change in their worlds.
Enjoying a meal out in New York City with her entire family is an experience that destination marketing expert Lakshmee Lachhman-Persad (she/her) doesn’t take for granted. Her sister Annie has severe cerebral palsy and requires a wheelchair and full-time caretaking from her mother Pearly. Frustrated with the lack of information about accessible attractions and restaurants, three years ago Lakshmee launched Accessible Travel NYC, a blog dedicated to getting around and exploring New York City with inclusivity in mind.
After spending 15 years marketing destinations across the United States to all kinds of visitors worldwide, I realized that there was just no marketing effort that was being inclusive to people with disabilities,” says Lakshmee. “My family hadn’t had a lot of shared family outings or any type of vacation together, and that was my lifelong anguish.”
Although the Americans with Disabilities Act passed more than 30 years ago, finding places that are truly welcoming is still challenging. But the potential for growth for businesses that embrace accessibility is undeniable: the disability market segment is currently valued at $490 billion with over 61 million people, projected to grow to 95 million by 2060. One in four Americans identifies as having a disability, and the COVID-19 pandemic is still adding to this tally with long haul symptoms and mental health diagnoses.
Lakshmee’s expertise has earned her a position on the board of NYC & Company, New York City’s destination marketing organization, to support its mission of Diversity & Inclusion. She shares her best practices to update your marketing, attract new customers, and help those with disabilities find vital information about your business.
Three Ways to Incorporate Inclusive Marketing at Your Restaurant
1. Add Accessibility Information to Your Website
One of the biggest challenges for Lakshmee when planning outings for her family is finding information about accessibility at a location. Most venues don’t include relevant information on their website, so she ends up making time-consuming and often frustrating phone calls. “Having accessible information on a website solves a whole lot of issues of where to eat for people with disabilities when making choices.”
When adding accessibility information to your website:
- Do the bare minimum. “You shouldn’t just say, ‘We’re compliant, come visit us.’ That doesn’t provide any helpful information to your audience.”
- Limit accessibility to one page on your site. “People with disabilities shouldn’t just be in your footer or on one page as an afterthought. We’re customers worth over $490 billion that want to be welcomed with digital information, physical access, and social access inclusion from your business so that we can make memories like everyone else.”
- Include photos. “Show your dining room with table types and any outdoor setup you have, especially now during the pandemic,” advises Lakshmee.
- Mention what type of accessible restrooms you have including grab bars and changing stations for families with small children.
- Encourage guests with disabilities to add relevant information to their reservation notes. “It’s very welcoming to add something to your website that says, ‘If you’re a person with disabilities and need reasonable accommodation, please add the information in your Resy reservation notes.’ If I saw that, I would say ‘Wow, this restaurant is really thinking about me and my family, and this is somewhere we’d like to go.’”
Pro tip: See how to edit information on your Resy.com page here.
2. Make Your Disability Representation and Inclusive Marketing Feel Vibrant and Viral
New York Times’ critic Pete Wells’ August 17th review of accessibility-forward restaurant Contento shows the positive power of adding inclusivity to the narrative.
“You can see from [Pete Wells’] Instagram account that his post about Contento has a lot more engagement than the other posts around it,” says Lakshmee. “People are eager for the information and these types of stories. And that’s what gives it the ability to have a viral effect, because it’s something new and inclusive coming on the scene.”
Keep your inclusive marketing from being sterile or bland by showing the joy in inclusivity. Lakshmee recommends marketing to those with disabilities in the same way you would other underrepresented but significant communities.
3. Take Stock of your Stock Photos
Does your website have photos of diners enjoying their meals? If so, take a hard look at what types of diners are featured. “If all of your customers look the same on your website, those who don’t fit that mold are less likely to feel welcome,” says Lakshmee. She recommends taking new photos that showcase diversity of all kinds. “Diversity and inclusion initiatives aren’t equitable without also including access for the BIPOC community.”
Lakshmee cautions against going too far and tokenizing your target audience. “Please never showcase one wheelchair user one time and tell everybody in the world that you’re accessible. The disability community covers a wide spectrum and requires ongoing, multi-channel marketing just like any other community.”
Pro tip: Our first chapter of Taking Stock featured Peter Slatin, a consultant who trains hospitality businesses to provide excellent service for guests with disabilities. Read Adding Accessibility to Your Restaurant’s Operations here or purchase e-learning course Elements of Service by emailing email@example.com.