Beijing: A restaurant in China’s capital is offering opportunities to people that are hard-of-hearing by employing a team of deaf waiters who communicate with customers aided by guide cards.
With a look of concentration and a timid smile on his face, Cao Xueting goes about serving food to diners in a quiet but determined manner and when asked about the menu, he quickly directs customers to some coloured cards, reports Efe news.
“It was a friend who showed me this place. Here, there are always a lot of people and it is a very good business,” 21-year-old Cao said using sign language.
Located in the artistic 798 district in northeastern Beijing, “Forgive Barbecue” is one of the few restaurants in China with deaf waiters who through these cards and simple facial expressions can work with ease.
Cao is part of a four-member team that carries out the work typical of any restaurant: to attend, serve, charge for the service and clean up, all done through sign and body language.
The establishment opened its doors two summers ago, when its promoter Lu Lu decided to switch jobs from caring for children with special needs to launch a project that would include people with disabilities.
“In China, many children with disabilities do not find good jobs once they get older,” Lul Lu told Efe news.
“I decided to open the restaurant not to turn it into a sales phenomenon, but to help them build their psychology and give them a sense of belonging,” she continued.
Before starting work, all the waiters – whose ages range from 20 to 30 – underwent several months of training where, in addition to learning day-to-day tasks, they also gained self-confidence.
From the ceiling hang posters with basic instructions on how to order food, ask for the bill and approach waiters, accompanied by drawings with the most basic gestures of sign language.
In the background, a wall is filled with hundreds of pink post-it notes containing suggestions on how to express gratitude for the food to how to convey messages of support, designed for the customers to initiate exchanges with the hard of hearing staff.
Behind the counter, dressed in black and with a panoramic view of the premises is 26-year-old Xing Fangyuan who is in charge of sorting out any difficulties should they arise between patrons and waiters.
“At first I didn’t really know how to work with them, but I’ve been learning little by little,” said Xing who learnt sign language before starting work as the restaurant supervisor.
As for the patrons, their faces range from initial perplexity to a growing sense of curiosity that eventually leads many, like Yang Feifei, to repeat the experience a second time.
“The dishes are very delicious and the service is excellent,” said Yang, 19, who now admits to understanding the reality of people with disabilities better.
“I do not notice any difference between this and other restaurants,” Yand adds.
Lu plans to open another half-dozen similar restaurants in Beijing, of which at least one will include a small “experimental room” where diners can feel the same as a deaf person.