Dining out can be a chore for people with disabilities

By Kim Wooten, Staff Reporter
Published on Saturday, September 27, 2014

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Kim Wooten enjoys dining in family- and disabled-friendly restaurants.

David Wooten

Kim Wooten enjoys dining in family- and disabled-friendly restaurants.


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Nazario Gonzalez, a quadriplegic, said,

Nazario Gonzalez, a quadriplegic, said, "If I go out to eat, I try to enjoy it."


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Matthew Bond, a server at Two Chief’s Deli, said he is sensitive to the needs of customers with disabilities.

Matthew Bond, a server at Two Chief’s Deli, said he is sensitive to the needs of customers with disabilities.


 • Q&A with Pete Pascuzzi, Divisional Chief for Ryan's

Dining at restaurants is typically a pleasurable and relaxing experience. However, sometimes it is not so pleasing for those with disabilities.

I have had both positive and negative experiences dining out.

A few years ago, I wouldn't choose to eat out due to the negativity that I would receive while I ate.

If I had to dine out I would insist that my husband or someone feed me even though I can self-feed. I finally came to the realization that I wasn’t being fair to myself not being the independent woman that I am just because it may make others a little uncomfortable.

People with disabilities may eat or feed themselves a little differently and even make a bit of a mess. What is the difference between someone spilling food on the table and someone with a disability dropping food off their spoon?

While enjoying my meal, I have had diners stare at me, and make rude comments. People have laughed at the way I eat and some have asked their server to change seats.

Nazario Gonzalez, a quadriplegic who enjoys dining at restaurants, said, “people stare at me, too, when I eat but I don't care. If I go out to eat, I try to enjoy it.”

Travis Vaughn, who has Cerebral Palsy said he dines out regularly, but feels as if some restaurants aren’t prepared for people with disabilities.

I prefer going to restaurants where I can seat myself, they are easily accessible and the plates and utensils are within reach of wheelchair users. Pete Pascuzzi, Divisional Chief for Ryan’s affirms that, “the food bars and utensil stations are designed and spaced so that an individual in a wheelchair has easy access to all the variety offered.”

When seating myself, or when a server is seating my family, I always request a table in the back or corner of the restaurant so I am out of the way of the traffic flow and the view of others. “Due to the layout of our restaurants, we are able to accommodate guests with physical challenges. For example, chairs are easily removed as needed for individuals in wheelchairs. And those with other physical challenges have access to the food bars.” Pascuzzi commented via email.

Most servers will ensure that a chair is removed from the table so I am able to pull right in with my wheelchair.  Some servers will ask if I need a lid with a straw for my cup or if I need extra napkins.  “Based on the individual’s needs, we are focused on creating an exceptional experience,” Pascuzzi wrote.

“When I am serving a customer with a disability, I go into it with understanding, just like I do with any other customer,” said Matthew Bond, a server at Two Chief’s Deli in Greenville.

When I receive exceptional service and care from my server I will tip accordingly and I will email the manager about that server. Servers and restaurant staff are not used to serving people with special needs. If one server is praised for great customer service and professionalism towards people with disabilities then maybe they will teach others.  

People with disabilities should be able to enjoy a meal with friends and family without being stared or laughed at. Servers should be educated on what needs a disabled customer might need.

“Every team member position focuses on making a connection with the guest and recognizing every guest’s unique needs. This focus makes sure that our team members are able to demonstrate a culture of Real Hospitality,” Pascuzzi wrote.

• About the author: Kim Wooten, 25, was born with Cerebral Palsy, which is a condition that affects her muscles and muscle control. She graduated cum laude in 2010 from North Greenville University with a B.A. in Business Administration. Wooten is married and has a 2-year old daughter.

Other stories by Kim you may enjoy.

• Motorcycle ride supports law enforcement

• Perception wears more on disabled.

• Softball tournament is heartfelt.







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