Restaurants and bars are frequent targets for web accessibility lawsuits. In 2022, about 234 web accessibility lawsuits were filed against businesses in the food, beverage & tobacco industry, according to a report from Accessibility.com.
That analysis focused solely on “pure” web accessibility lawsuits and did not include cases filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that alleged physical accessibility barriers in addition to online barriers.
And since many lawsuits are settled before reaching court, the true numbers may be much higher. Restaurants have an obligation to accommodate all potential customers, and an accessible website is crucial for compliance.
Of course, compliance isn’t the only reason to think about accessibility. By building for accessibility, you gain a competitive edge — and every customer will enjoy a better experience. Accessibility can also help restauranteurs earn better search engine rankings and promote their services more effectively.
If you’re ready to embrace the best practices of inclusive design, here’s how to get started.
Testing a Restaurant Website for Accessibility
The international standards for accessibility are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), and the Department of Justice (DOJ) recommends WCAG for improving digital compliance.
WCAG addresses dozens of issues that might affect customers with limited vision, hearing, mobility, or cognition. Below, we’ll discuss common barriers that affect restaurant & bar websites.
1. Check your restaurant’s online ordering system for accessibility
About 1 in 4 U.S. adults live with some form of disability; that’s about 66 million people. Needless to say, if 25% of your customers can’t order food, you’re doing something wrong.
It’s important to remember that people may use assistive technologies when placing orders. Screen readers, which output text as audio or braille, are a common example — but other customers might use screen magnifiers, text-to-speech (TTS), or other technologies.
Your online ordering system must be accessible for these users, regardless of whether you offer other options (such as a phone number) for ordering. Check for common issues:
- Make sure that the ordering process can be completed with a keyboard alone (no mouse). Learn why keyboard accessibility is fundamental for web design.
- Check that all buttons, form fields, and other interactive elements have accurate input labels.
- Provide descriptive instructions for completing forms.
- Make sure that required fields are correctly identified.
- Check that your form’s error messages are accessible for all users.
- Provide users with enough time to complete the process. If your ordering system has a time limit, make sure users are aware and provide a mechanism for extending the time limit.
2. Don’t rely on images alone
Your food might look fantastic, but some of your customers have limited visual perception. Provide alternative text for all important images — including those appetizing photos of your entrees and desserts.
Other tips for using images and color thoughtfully:
- Avoid using images of text. If text appears within an image, make sure that the text is also included in the alt text.
- Don’t use alternative text to make a sales pitch (for example, “our famous cheeseburger, now available for only $11.99”). Describe the image with simple language using the first words that come to mind.
- Don’t use color alone to convey information. For example, don’t write, “click the green button to place your order.”
- Follow WCAG’s requirements for color contrast. This prevents low-contrast text, which may be unreadable for some users.
3. Use caution when creating PDF menus
Many restaurants use PDF (Portable Document Format) documents to present their menus to customers.
The advantages are obvious: PDFs can be printed easily without losing their formatting, and they’re easy to update. When your menu changes, you can simply upload the latest PDF to your website and social media accounts.
However, PDFs can create challenges for people with vision disabilities. All web documents need to have appropriate markup to make them compatible with screen readers and other assistive technologies — and even when you follow the best practices, some people might be left out.
You can certainly offer PDFs as an option, but to reach as many customers as possible, take a few minutes to publish your menu on your website as simple HTML.
For more guidance, read: Why PDF Menus Are a Problem for Accessibility.
4. Don’t forget about kiosks, mobile apps, and other digital products
Before introducing any digital product, think about whether it’s accessible for all customers.
For example, digital kiosks can improve accessibility (and your workflow) by allowing people to place orders through an iPad or other device — but kiosks must be optimized for accessibility to be useful for every customer. Likewise, a mobile app can help you build your brand, but if the app isn’t accessible, it’s a potential liability.
Stay focused on the benefits of an accessible website
Ultimately, digital accessibility isn’t a roadblock; following the best practices of inclusive design will help you grow your business and reach new markets. Accessible products can create an enormous competitive advantage, particularly when you consider the needs and expectations of customers with disabilities as early as possible.