To run a successful restaurant, you need a great website — and it needs to be accessible for individuals with disabilities.
Under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), places of public accommodation must be reasonably accessible for people with disabilities. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), websites qualify as places of public accommodation.
Restaurants that ignore web accessibility may face litigation under the ADA and other non-discrimination laws. In their 2022 analysis of digital accessibility lawsuits, Accessibility.com noted that one law firm filed 60% of its 250+ cases against food, restaurant, and related websites.
Many of the most famous (or infamous) digital accessibility lawsuits have targeted restaurants. Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC helped to establish the precedent that the ADA applies to websites and mobile apps, even if a restaurant’s services are otherwise accessible through brick-and-mortar retail locations.
In other words, accessibility isn’t optional — but it can be beneficial, particularly for businesses that rely on takeout and delivery orders. Here’s what restaurant owners should know.
Accessible design can help restaurants reach more potential customers
If people can’t use your website to place orders, you’re missing an opportunity to win their business.
That’s an especially important consideration in the post-COVID food industry: Takeout and delivery orders skyrocketed during stay-at-home orders and haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Even if your restaurant is dine-in only, many of your customers will check your website before placing a reservation. In a 2019 survey performed by marketing agency MGH, 77% of diners said that they are likely to visit a restaurant’s website before dining in or placing an order. Of that group, 68% reported that they have been discouraged from visiting a restaurant because of its website.
An accessible website provides a better experience for the 26% of U.S. adults who live with disabilities. By providing alternative text for non-text content, streamlining your checkout process, and avoiding other accessibility barriers, you can reach a much wider audience.
Taking those steps will provide a more streamlined experience for every user, regardless of their abilities. You’ll also enjoy enhanced brand sentiment, improved search engine optimization (SEO), and better word of mouth — all of which are vital for restaurant marketing.
Avoid common accessibility mistakes when building your restaurant’s website
Many restaurant websites are visual-first: They’re designed primarily for sighted users who navigate using a keyboard and mouse. Of course, great food appeals to everyone — and your website should be fully operable by people with vision, hearing, mobility, and neurocognitive disabilities.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the international standard for digital accessibility. WCAG contains pass-or-fail statements called success criteria, which can be used to test for common accessibility barriers.
By following WCAG, you can build better content. Here are a few general tips to help you get started:
- Don’t rely on PDF menus. PDFs can be made more accessible, but web-based menus are generally more accessible for screen readers (software that converts text to audio) and other assistive technologies (AT).
- Provide accurate alternative text (also called alt text) for all important images. That certainly includes photos of menu items. Read our guide to writing clean, effective alt text.
- Use color thoughtfully. Don’t use color alone to convey information and make sure your text has appropriate contrast with its background.
- Avoid using CAPTCHAs where possible. Consider accessible alternatives to CAPTCHA such as reCAPTCHA and hCAPTCHA.
- Test your order forms for keyboard accessibility. People should be able to complete an order by using a keyboard alone (with no mouse).
- Make sure forms have accurate labels and instructions.
- Give people time to complete your order form. Warn users if they’re running out of time and give them the option to extend or turn off the time limit.
While these are some of the most common accessibility barriers for restaurant websites, this isn’t a complete list. For optimal digital compliance, you should test your website against the latest version of WCAG (currently, WCAG 2.1) and try to meet all Level AA success criteria.
Remember, an accessible website is an investment. Meeting your accessibility goals may require some work, but it’s time well spent. Improving compliance will limit your legal risks and open up the business benefits of inclusive design — while providing every user with a better experience.