On the Menu: Burgers, Fries, Shakes and Universal Design

The entrance to a small fast food business, with a sign over the door saying BURGERS

The concept of universal design aims to provide products, services and buildings that can be used by all people, regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.

‘Universal design’, also referred to as ‘inclusive design’, ensures ‘things’ are easy to use and do not need any special requirement or modification to be usable by everyone, including those older people or those with a disability of some type.

Chances are you have experienced ‘universal design’ without even knowing… You remember when you used a ‘thing’ and thought, “wow, that was easy” – that’s universal design.

Automatic doors, lever type door handles, large light switches, sensor taps, ramps and lifts, padded seating with armrests and backrests are all examples of universal design in the built environment.

Booth seating, bar stools, hard uncomfortable chairs, high counters, overcrowded eating areas with too many chairs and tables, a lack of accessible sanitary facilities, loud music, confusing layouts, cluttered signage, flashing/changing digital menu displays, poor lighting and disengaged staff are all examples of ‘exclusive design’ (the evil and anti-universal design concept…).

Universal design goes beyond accessibility of the built environment and can extend into the delivery of services, including at your local burger joint.

Good customer service, along with considering universal design principles might actually increase clientele and tap into the ‘disability dollar’. In 2013 it was estimated that Australians with disability have a combined disposable income of $54 million per annum. More than enough for a few burgers, fries and shakes each year.

Burger and chips on a plate

Providing good access into the shop, with suitable lighting, the use of non-reflective surfaces, ease of access to service counters and the availability of an accessible toilet are all positive steps towards a universally designed cafe/burger joint.

Having clear signage, with large text in title case (not in block capitals), in a non-confusing font, and with a high-level of visual contrast between the lettering and the background – that’s universal design.

Complementing overhead menus with printed menus that can be handed out to customers – universal design again. Providing pictures alongside each item helps those people with communicative difficulties and those that do not speak English to point to their desired meal.

Numbering each menu item can help too, as it is much easier to say, “I’d like number 4 please“, than “I’d like The Triple Coronary Bypass AKA The Super Stack” (trust me, that’s a real thing).

Having a notebook and pen on standby will also be a backup for staff to pass to customers in some cases. If you really want to go all the way and provide for everyone, have some menus printed in braille text.

The availability of alternate methods of ordering food can help too, with a phone app or website to order in-house, through the drive-through or for home delivery.

It is no surprise that communication, or the lack thereof, can be a big barrier in busy and noisy shops. In some cases, it might be driving some customers away. Try to keep the noise down over customer service counters so people can hear. Not everyone has perfect hearing and background noise and reverberation will make it difficult for some people to communicate with staff. The installation of a counter induction loop system at the service counter is surprisingly not that expensive and will allow people using a hearing aid or cochlear implant to hear much better.

Payments should also be available in a range of options and for those businesses accepting cash only – you’re limiting the options for those people who prefer to swipe a credit card rather than have to produce cold hard cash, which might be difficult for some people. They might just go up the road to the next burger joint accepting a no-minimum charge, tap and go payment.

Burgers sign over a doorway

Awareness of the needs of everyone in society, all being potential customers, is important for all staff. All staff with responsibilities for dealing with members of the public should have a good understanding of disability awareness and the broader community.

Staff should do their jobs in a non-discriminatory way and effectively, patiently and respectfully communicate with older people and those with a disability. They should speak directly to the customer even when they have an assistant or carer. They should not look away, cover their mouth or speak down into a bain-marie for example. Many people rely on visual cues and lip-reading to either understand the spoken words from staff or use these cues to supplement what they are hearing.

In terms of the items on offer on the menu, please provide a range of options for people with dietary requirements. Universal design and vegan/gluten-free options go hand in hand, and without the need for any special requirement or modification (being a principle of universal design). Plus there won’t be all the fuss when ordering “the Triple Coronary Bypass AKA The Super Stack, but can you hold the cheese please and take out the burgers and replace them with vegetables” (I can say this as the vegetarian often having to ask discretely for a special dish at some eateries). A simple little legend on the menu with symbols identifying gluten-free and plant-based options will be well received by many people (including the 375 million vegetarians worldwide (as at 2014)).

Lastly, if you are the owner of a burger, fries and shakes joint and have trained staff in disability awareness and universal design concepts, or employed people with disability, have taken steps to make your establishment more accessible, non-discriminatory and enjoyable for everyone – then boast about it:

  • Tell people.
  • Display stickers on entrances, such as “Assistance Animals Welcome”, “Seniors Card Welcome” etc.
  • Sponsor a local charity.
  • Put it on your website.
  • Post about it on social media.

You might just be surprised at how your business improves.

Please contact Access Central if you have any questions about this post.