What Does Restaurant Curbside Pickup Have to Do with Digital Accessibility?

September 21, 2020

For the restaurant industry, takeout is taking off.

In March, 26 percent of American adults said that they’d picked up takeout from a restaurant, per a Gallup poll. By the second week of May, that number jumped to 44 percent. The number of Americans who ordered delivery from a restaurant or pizzeria jumped by 10 percent over the same period.

And in a separate study conducted by CHD Expert, curbside food pickup services were expected to generate $124 billion in sales in 2020. Direct delivery takeout services were expected to generate an additional $32 billion, while takeout services from third-party delivery companies were expected to bring in a relatively modest $13 billion.

Of course, those statistics aren’t exactly surprising; the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the ways that Americans interact with businesses, and restaurants have been particularly affected by nationwide lockdown orders.

But the sudden growth of curbside pickup has left some businesses struggling to adapt. Restaurants that relied heavily on walk-in traffic suddenly found themselves rushing out new websites, apps, and online ordering systems — marketing tools that maybe they've not had to prioritize until this year.

As curbside pickup grows, accessibility is crucial

The sudden expansion of curbside delivery has also highlighted the importance of accessibility. If customers can’t use a website, they won’t order — and restaurants that don’t make appropriate accommodations will miss out and could face complaints and lawsuits.

Over 61 million American adults live with a disability, and many of those disabilities affect the way that people interact with websites and apps. Moreover, people with certain disabilities may feel uncomfortable dining in, even in states that have lifted their lockdown orders, since some underlying health conditions can increase the risk of severe illness from a COVID-19 infection.

Restauranteurs should ensure accessibility throughout the whole process, keeping the following in mind:

  • Every aspect of the experience needs to be accessible. From viewing menus to completing order forms and signing up for email lists, all content and functionality should work for everyone.
  • Order forms should have clear, consistent controls and labels. People use a variety of technologies to interact with order forms, and consistent labeling allows these tools to work effectively.
  • No website template can provide "automatic" accessibility. While some templates are better suited to an accessible approach, developers need to stay engaged, implementing semantic HTML, adding image alt descriptions, and taking other appropriate steps as needed.
  • Apps should also prioritize accessibility. Before introducing an online ordering app, restaurants should engage technical audits to ensure that the app meets WCAG guidelines — and fix any issues before the app is widely released. 

It’s important to remember that accessibility isn’t optional. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been widely interpreted to include digital content. Websites are "places of public accommodation," and people with disabilities are protected by law from discrimination; site owners need to make reasonable accommodations, including providing accessible digital experiences, for these users.

More people are ordering curbside pickup services and the trend is unlikely to suddenly reverse after the pandemic. By prioritizing accessibility, restaurants can include this growing class of customers — and keep them coming back.

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