My eldest daughter, Karen, is a coeliac. It means she can't eat gluten. This is not a life choice like a vegetarian or a vegan, it is an illness. Gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye triggers an immune reaction in people with coeliac disease and damages the lining of their small intestine.
It can be extremely difficult to find places to eat out where the needs of coeliacs are understood and catered for. I have been in situations where a member of restaurant staff is clueless about the disease and just shrugs their shoulders and tries to ask a colleague. Alternatively they ask a chef who doesn't understand the implications of cross contamination and the food becomes infected with gluten.
Cross contamination can occur when the work area is not cleared down properly, knives are used for both gluten laden food and the coeliac meal and deep frying fat is used for all meals. All of these will make a coeliac customer very ill.
Another issue that restaurateurs need to be wary of is the way they take a booking and how they confirm it back to the customer. For example I may be a wheelchair user but I am not a wheelchair, so please don't call me one. So it's not a table of five plus a wheelchair. It is a table of six adults, one of whom is in a wheelchair. That is how the reservation should be written down and always referred to.
Arnold Fewell is a director of AVF Marketing and a permanent wheelchair user
seven ways to make a restaurant accessible
1 Check with reception before service and see if there are any people with disabilities staying in the hotel or likely to be in any visiting party or meeting. This means management and staff asking questions at the time the booking is made.
2 Have tables that a person with a wheelchair can get their legs under, you will be amazed at how many don't allow for this. Manufacturers often put a piece of wood under the table to give it strength and rigidity but this blocks wheelchair users.
3 Make sure there is at least one table that a person with a disability can use and position it close to the accessible toilet. Then make sure this is one of the last tables you use to allow for a chance booking.
4 Check that the accessible toilet is easy to get round using a wheelchair and there are not any unnecessary impediments on the floor such as boxes and rubbish bins.
5 Does your accessible toilet have a strobe light linked to the fire alarm system? If it doesn't then how are you going to attract the attention of a deaf person when there is a fire emergency on your premises?
6 There are different thoughts on the best way of looking after a person with a visual impairment. A very low percentage use Braille - but those that do like to be able to use it.
Make sure staff can describe the menu. Tell them to explain the food on the plate using a clock system - meat at six o'clock etc.
7 Create a manual or file that details the possible allergies a guest can have and under each one detail what they can and can't eat and have alternatives.
A Market to Win
A free conference is being held on Tuesday 24 January 2012, offering insight and advice into understanding and attracting a share of the £2b accessibility market.
Chaired by Caterer and Hotelkeeper editor Mark Lewis, a panel of experts will share their tips for pulling in this lucrative market.
Speakers at the free conference which will be held at the BT Centre, St Pauls, London, include Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, Loyd Grossman and Magnus Berglund of Scandic Hotels.