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An enabled world

Friday, June 15, 2018

The next time you eat out, spare a thought for the server, who may be differently abled, says Tanmaya Vyas

Mumbai, which offers a bouquet of restaurants and eateries, is waking up to its sensitive side. Many of us order food without even looking at the waiter or server; some of us take the effort to strike a conversation; most tip the server and acknowledge the service. Now, increasingly, Mumbai’s restaurants are taking the experience to new levels; they are recruiting servers or ‘Shift Managers’ who are differently abled. For these waiters, tending to a patron means more than just the salary. It means earning the respect of being independent and importantly, being productive.

A norm adopted internationally a while ago is trickling down to India, with many hotels, cafes and restaurants doing their bit by hiring the differently abled as servers. This is a positive initiative that is in tune with Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging Indians to address differently-abled people as Divyaang (People with superpowers) instead of Vikalanga (People with disabilities).

The Lemon Tree Hotels across India have recruited over 20% of its staff who are deprived of opportunities due to Down’s Syndrome, Autism or are hearing or speech-impaired. In Mumbai, stand-alone outlets, Mirchi and Mime (Powai) and Chai Pe Charcha (South Mumbai) are two joints that have given an impetus to the initiative. Servers in both restaurants are hearing-speech impaired. Mirchi and Mime’s sister concern, Madeira and Mime, a gastropub, also has differently-abled staff.

In 2014 the founders of Mirchi and Mime, Prashant and Anuj returned to India from United Kingdom post their Masters, to contribute to the New India story. One of the values they carried with them was to generate wealth for society. Two prospective investors, who had seen a Facebook video of a similar concept in Canada, suggested this unique initiative.

“There is a thin line between a concept being successful and a flash-in-the-pan gimmick. Mirchi & Mime and Madeira & Mime are both profitable business units. Inclusion is the way to go and in today's India there is a change in perception towards the differently abled. At our restaurants guests are amazed at their efficient and high-quality service. We have a training programme with five modules. Our SHI (speech and hearing impaired) staff are suitable for hospitality owing to the following attributes: Smile, focus and intuition,” says Prashant Issar, Co-Founder and Chief Executive, Squaremeal Foods—Mirchi and Mime and Madeira & Mime

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) has also adopted a model in India, where one of every 15 newly opened outlets will be managed by people with disabilities (PwDs). They also fill the gap of providing training at their KFC Academy. Their program for the hearing and speech impaired was initiated in 2008 and has been running successfully for over 10 years. This is a multi-city program where translators explain in sign language, followed by on-ground training by existing employees as “buddy trainers” and usage of visual training aids and technology with vigilant monitoring. In Mumbai, the KFC outlet at Phoneix Marketcity, Kurla, is managed ably by differently abled.

Aman Lal, Chief People Officer, KFC India, says: “KFC stands by the principle – Believe in all People – and we believe in giving back to the communities in which we work and live, thereby trying to make a positive difference in the lives of our customers, associates and their families. Our project for the hearing and speech impaired was initiated in 2008. Our program highlights the importance of actively seeking diversity, believing everyone has the potential to make a difference. We take great pride in creating employment opportunities for the specially-abled and helping them be their best selves. The biggest impact of this initiative is on employees and their families. We have come across so many instances that accentuate the change these specially-abled employees have witnessed in their lives—boosting confidence and bringing them into the mainstream workforce.”

A remarkable story of a Down’s syndrome girl starting her own venture is one such shining example. Going a step ahead of being recruited, 22-year-old Aditi Verma took upon an entrepreneurial task and opened ‘Aditi’s Café’ in CBD Belapur’s Bhoomi Mall. She started by serving tea, coffee and soft drinks and with positive response, she has included meals and confectionery too in her menu. From preparation to serving to maintaining accounts, Aditi does it all.

Encouraging feedback by patrons, employment generation for the otherwise ignored segment and low attrition for the organisation coupled with the feeling of doing “ethical business” makes this proposition a win-win situation.  So next time you visit any of these outlets, be sure you are served by extremely capable hands.

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