Time on Disability Act is running out

by Forbes Mutch , Thursday 25th September 2003 15:29
Dogs and restaurants - they're in the news again. A few weeks ago we discovered a hotel that was preparing special menus for its guests' dogs. Today we hear about a restaurant that tried to ban a blind customer because he had a guide dog.

Forget the first story; it's nothing but a PR stunt. The second story is the serious one. Here, the new owner of the Imperial Garden Chinese restaurant in Watford refused entry to a blind customer and his guide dog for "environmental health reasons". Unfortunately, the customer concerned had been dining at the restaurant, with his guide dog, for 25 years and so was obviously upset to be suddenly banned.

Instead of the usual British approach of complaining in silence and vowing never to return, the case was brought to court and the restaurant owner prosecuted under the terms of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). The verdict went against the restaurateur, who was ordered to pay £900 compensation and served with a mandatory injunction forcing him to admit the customer and his dog in the future. Failure to comply with the injunction could result in a prison sentence.

Now, we could debate the rights and wrongs of allowing dogs into restaurants (and most of us, I believe, would say that the restaurant owner was wrong to refuse a guide dog) but that's not the point. What's important is that this was the first mandatory injunction brought under the DDA; the first time the full weight of the law has been brought to bear in a matter of disability discrimination.

The case illustrates that the law is getting tougher on those refusing to accommodate disabled people, and that compliance with the DDA is going to be increasingly enforced. Forget dogs and restaurants - next time it could be wheelchair access to your hotel or toilet facilities, or failing to train your staff to deal with customers with impaired vision.

The DDA stipulates that disabled customers cannot be discriminated against in any way; that they have to be offered exactly the same services as other customers. There's still a belief that the law doesn't take effect until October 2004. Not true. Many of the regulations have been in place since 1996 and, as the Imperial Garden Chinese restaurant case demonstrates, the legal noose is tightening on operators in every sector who don't comply.

A family's fortunes
It's not unusual to hear about a father and son or husband and wife going into business together, but life could get complicated when Dad, Mum, plus three children and a mother-in-law join forces in a fine-dining restaurant project. But the Pattersons - starring father Raymond, former long-term chef at the Garrick - have come together to create what will hopefully be a lasting and loving family affair. See page 24.
Jessica Gunn
Deputy Restaurants & Bars Editor


All you need is love
Like some couples, contract caterers and their clients can suffer from the seven-year itch. It's a dangerous time when clients might get itchy feet and think about retendering to test the market. On page 34 we take a look at what contractors can and should do to keep their business relationships going strong year after year. All it takes is a little love and understanding!
Ben Walker
Deputy Contract Catering Editor


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