Signs Restaurant owner, Anjan Manikumar, opened his restaurant last month amid much fanfare but, it’s not just his cuisine that’s drawing customers to his spot- the restaurant has deaf waiters and waitresses. Diners at the restaurant are eager to support this initiative that is giving the deaf community an opportunity to work at an industry that has excluded them for a long time. Signs restaurant is a first of its kind.
Christine Nelson of the Bob Rumball Centre for the Deaf says the idea is “super inspiring. On behalf of the whole community we’re thrilled to see something like this take place.”
“They’re able to show their potential, they’re able to show how good they are, and I think they are very talented,” Manikumar who is not deaf but knows sign language says. He got his inspiration for the restaurant while working as a server in a Markham restaurant. He was serving a deaf customer who ordered by having to point at the menu. “I felt he wasn’t getting the service he deserved. He wasn’t getting the personal touch,” he says.
The restaurant offers its customers an opportunity to learn sign language through the use of graphics that are incorporated in the menu. Photographs are mounted on the walls that illustrate clearly signs for some common words one uses in a restaurant (like alcoholic drink names) and cheat-sheets are also placed on tables.
“We expect our customers to order using sign language – our menus are designed in such a way that our customers can do that,” Manikumar says. “This will allow our customers to experience the fun of learning something new.”
The restaurant aims at becoming a meeting point for the deaf community. It will also provide a casual atmosphere for hearing customers to learn and practice sign language. According to Manikumar, the restaurant will not only offer hearing customers a fun experience while they practice sign language, it will also provide job opportunities for the deaf community, in an industry they have been shunned from.
Rachel Shemuel, the manager says that they “want to create awareness for the hearing community that the deaf community has the ability to do anything and everything. It’s also a good opportunity for the hearing community to see exactly what it is that the deaf community goes through on a day to day basis.”
When they posted the position for a deaf waiter’s staff, they got over 200 responses and they hired about 50 of them. They have little or no experience at the hospitality sector while some have never had any full time jobs but they are grateful for the opportunity to work in an encouraging environment.
“It’s wonderful. I’m so excited to be here,” Mehdi Safavi, one of the employees says. “It’s a deaf environment where people can come in and experience our world and our culture, so it’s really amazing. It’s a challenge for me. But a great challenge.”
Manikumar hopes that other sectors will be inspired and encouraged to hire from the deaf community as well. As of right now, Signs has very many reservations from diners in Toronto, eager to try sign language.