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For Vision Impaired Diners: Menus that Talk
There have been many times when out dining with my in-laws, that one or both of them have forgotten their reading glasses and have to strain to read the menu. When that happened to Susan Perry, while dining with her blind niece, she realized there were few options and got a great idea. What if the menu talked?
Your first thought may be that there are Braille menus for the blind, but less than ten percent of blind individuals can read Braille. That fact is what truly motivated Susan Perry to pursue her idea. And, after three months challenges and an investment of $300,000 of her own money (including the patent, legal fees and a lot of trial and error), the first prototype of “Menus that Talk” was born.
The device is about the size of a paperback book and has 20 navigation buttons. When a button is pressed, the device indicates, in a professionally recorded voice, what section of the menu the diner has selected (appetizers, entrees, sides, etc). By pressing the button a second time, the menu lists the items in that category, including descriptions and prices. The device also contains volume controls, output for a headset, a detachable speaker for hearing impaired diners, and a button that, when pressed, flashes a blue light to get the waiter’s attention.
This whole concept reminds me of a post I wrote in January about restaurants implementing computer terminals at the table for diners to place their orders, rather than having a waitress (see Technology Could Make Waitresses Obsolete). The difference is, however, that many restaurants have already begun implementing ordering terminals, while the use of “Menus that Talk” is not a high priority. Industry experts question whether such an item is worth the price Perry plans to charge (approximately $800 each, with discounts when bought in bulk or by a small business). Many believe that Braille and large print menus are sufficient enough for their sight impaired guests.
In fact, a response to the original article on BusinessWeek.com (Meet the Talking Menu) posted by Denise Prophet says that “Menus that Talk” are not worth the expense. She states that she works for a company that produces Braille and large print menus for many large restaurant chains and that, when compared to the cost of a talking menu, restaurants could purchase 10 years worth of the products her company produces.
Perry remains positive, however. She has only been marketing the devices for a month or so and, though no orders have been placed, has received a great response. She received a positive reaction at the recent National Restaurant Association Show, stating, “we had considerable interest from big (restaurant) chains,” such as Hooters, Disney and Universal Studios, to name a few.
Personally, I like the idea. I think that many restaurants, especially chains, can afford to purchase one or two units for each location. Granted, that can add up pretty quick, but I truly believe the demand is there. Yes, it is a smaller portion of the community that needs them, but we should still make the effort to accommodate to the disabled in any way that we can, no matter how big or small the demographic.
And some restaurant chains have a larger visually impaired demographic than others. I used to be a waitress at Cracker Barrel, for example. And, as most people know, the majority of the guests that come through their doors are retirees who are on the road, many of which have a hard time reading the menu.
Some industry consultants say that, if it has a use, it will be pushed by legislator that restaurants are required to have them (just like handicapped accessible doors and restrooms). Maybe that’s what needs to happen. Of course, I’m not a restaurant owner or an industry consultant and I don’t work at a company that manufacturers Braille menus, but I can recognize a need, just as Susan Perry has, and I think she’s on her way to a successful business venture. After all, she’s doing it for all the right reasons.
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