A SEND-Friendly Café

If your museum has a café, you already know it acts as an important hub for your community as well as a welcome add-on for visitors. The saying “Great café with a museum attached” isn’t all tongue-in-cheek. For many people, the café (and shop) can be a first step into a new cultural space from where they can grow in confidence to explore further.

For some visitors, it can also help to “bookend” a visit, offering a reward or focus after all that stimulating engagement in the galleries.

SEND families are no different in their use and enjoyment of these facilities, but here are some useful tips for making your café more accessible to them:

  • Clear signage to the café in the museum and on the map/floorplan, which should also be included on the website
  • Show where the loos are, too
  • Photograph of the café in the visual story and on the website
  • Wheelchair/buggy-accessible tables or staff assistance to remove chairs if needed
  • A sample menu available on the website, with prices
  • Plastic straws on request (this is not a contentious issue!)
  • Plastic cutlery on request, especially spoons
  • Understanding and patient café staff—consider disability-confident training

Allow people to bring their own food and have the facility to warm it up. Many SEND children have specialist dietary requirements or need food served in a certain way, such as needing it to be a particular texture. Food aversions and a limited list of foods eaten are common. It’s impossible to meet all these needs on your menu, so being flexible is welcoming and a reasonable adjustment. Make this clear on the access pages of your website too.

If your coffee machine makes lots of noise, then let people know on the website and consider where in the café is quieter so sensory-sensitive visitors can sit there. This information is also valuable for visitors with hearing impairment who may struggle to hear conversation over a milk steamer.

Patient, considerate, and kind staff make all the difference to a café visit for any family but especially SEND families. Courtesies such as offering to bring the order to the table or taking the order at the table can really help. Offer extra napkins, avoid putting hot drinks near children, and offer help with seating, such as removing unwanted chairs or getting a highchair if needed.

If your museum doesn’t have a café, think about whether you can include a picnic space where SEND and other families can eat food they bring themselves.

All these are commonsense suggestions. They can be introduced at no cost or minimal cost and demonstrate excellent customer care.