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    6 ways to make your online menu accessible this Thanksgiving

    by Michael Taylor
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    When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of my family sitting around the big dinner table eating delicious food, playing cards after the big meal, and the smell of dessert pies in the oven. Most years, my aunt hosts. Between the lively banter of my cousins, the delicious aroma of turkey roasting, and the excited shouts of my father and uncle as they watch football, it's always a fun and festive event.

    This year, inflation at the grocery store could mean more families go out for the big dinner. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, grocery store prices have increased by 13% between September 2021 and September 2022. One Thanksgiving staple, a 20-pound turkey, has seen its price rise up 28%. 

    You may want to offer a Thanksgiving special if you are a restaurant. In this post, I will share my experiences with online menus and provide six ways you can improve the online experience.

    The Accessibility of Online Restaurant Menus

    Usually, I review menus on my phone before entering a restaurant to familiarize myself with the options. I mainly do this because ambient noise levels in most restaurants make it very difficult to hear my screen reader speaking the menu aloud.

    Unfortunately, I often have problems when trying to review an online menu. The biggest problem I face is digital menus uploaded as images. In these cases, a restaurant employee takes a picture of a paper menu and adds the photos to the site. While this may work fine for sighted individuals, it renders the menu virtually unusable for screen reader dependents like myself. In general, images of text are not screen reader accessible. In these situations, I must rely on the text recognition feature of my screen reader, which, even on the best day, could work better.

    Images of menus are especially problematic for photo text recognition software. Unfortunately, the column layout of most menus cannot be processed and translated into usable speech by screen readers. The other problem I encounter is that restaurant menus need to be correctly formatted to work with mobile-based screen readers like Voiceover.


    Accessibility of your Special Event, Pre-Fixe Menu

    The trouble here is generally not with locating the prix fixe menu but rather with accessing and reading it. Since prix fixe menus are usually temporary, most restaurant owners opt to use the inaccessible image upload method I discussed earlier. Whether you are creating an event menu or posting your regular menu online, I've come up with six recommendations based on my experience.


    6 Ways to Improve the Accessibility of your Restaurant Menu

    1. Avoid taking photos of physical menus and uploading the images to the site because this method is thoroughly inaccessible.
    2. Enter menu details manually onto the site as plain text. This process is more time-consuming up front but will pay off financially by bringing in customers from the disability community.
    3. Avoid formatting the online menu using tables, columns, or charts because screen readers only sometimes process these attributes correctly. For example, a list-based menu may be the most universally accessible.
    4. Embrace alternative text image descriptions of any relevant images on the menu, including pictures of each offered dish.
    5. If your menu is extensive and complex, consider creating a separate accessible version. This alternative version can either be accessed via a properly labeled link on the website or included as an accessible attachment, such as a Microsoft Word document.
    6. Gather and consider customer feedback on the accessibility of your site and menu. Though I focused primarily on screen reader accessibility in this post, a wide variety of other disability groups require web accessibility. Customer feedback may be the best way to become aware of these groups and learn about their needs.

    Ordering Thanksgiving for Takeout or Delivery

    High grocery store prices may have many people eating out this year. Yet, many families will want to celebrate the holiday from the comfort of their homes. Places like Boston Market, Cracker Barrel, and Whole Foods offer Thanksgiving packages for takeout and delivery.

    I have tried ordering groceries from a well-known grocer offering Thanksgiving takeout this year. I had a bad experience. In the end, I had to abandon my order. The issues began when I got to the screen that prompted the user to enter their preferred delivery day and time. Unfortunately, the value pickers were not at all screen reader accessible. 

    It's too bad when a business offers a service that could help people with disabilities and then doesn't test it with people with disabilities. They overlook a section of the population. This experience is not unique to Thanksgiving or me.

    Restaurants and Accessibility

    The restaurant industry has come a long way regarding ADA and accessibility, but work still needs to be done. Your customers are often a great resource. My experiences will give some helpful guidance and inspire improvements. If you own or manage a restaurant and want to reach more customers, I hope you remember digital inclusion as part of that effort.

    Editor's Note: This is a guest post from our new marketing intern, Michael Taylor. This post reflects his opinions and experiences. Read more about Michael in his introductory post here. And from all of us at UsableNet, Happy Thanksgiving! 

    User Experience Restaurants

    Michael Taylor

    Michael Taylor

    My name is Michael Taylor and I am a marketing intern at Usablenet. I graduated from Hofstra University with a bachelors of business administration in marketing. I am blind, and use assistive technology each and every day to access the digital world. As a result, I am very passionate about web accessibility and usability. My experiences with the good and bad of accessible technology give me a unique perspective that allows me to make meaningful contributions in the digital accessibility field. During my marketing internship at Usablenet, I hope to raise awareness about digital accessibility by providing accounts of my personal experiences and suggestions and recommendations about what works well and what does not. Though I am only beginning on my professional journey, I aim to pursue a long-term career in the digital accessibility field.

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