Inclusive restaurants are not just places to dine. They are one of the most important places to socialize and spend some quality time with our friends and family. However, there are times that this experience turns sour.  It is not an unknown experience for many  to go to a restaurant/café and find it difficult to carry on a conversation due to excessive noise. The restaurant environment often significantly impacts our dining experience.  The effects of sensory elements in the restaurant environment can be magnified for people with different abilities, age and other forms of human differences.


Why is it important to create inclusive restaurants?

One of the challenges that restaurants are facing is a demographic shift to an older population and mismatch between the needs of their clientele and design of the restaurants. In Canada, baby boomers (born between 1946-1965) reach the age of 65 between 2011-2030. It is very important to ensure leisure services like restaurants keep this generation in mind during the service design process.


What is the problem?

People whose needs are not considered in the design of the restaurant environment may not go to restaurants as much as they used to. This can impact the social engagement and wellbeing of those who do not find restaurant environment inclusive. Restaurants can lose their clientele when not considered in the design process. A community can lose its diversity due to lack of participation of all its members.


What are important factors to create an inclusive restaurant?

There are various factors that can make a restaurant inclusive to different people. There is both the design elements in the restaurant as well as social aspects which have a significant role in restaurant experience. There are different steps and touchpoints in a restaurant journey as illustrated in the image below including arrival, heading to the table, reading the menu, ordering the food, while dining, washroom, coming back to the table from the washroom, paying the bill and leaving the restaurant.

Creating Inclusive Restaurants Through Sensory Experience Design
Graphic Designed by: Rezvan Boostani | Icons from:


Design elements that can impact one’s restaurant journey

Different sensory design elements can impact people’s experience in their restaurant journey. These factors include but are not limited to lighting, acoustics, colours, flooring and walls, wayfinding and signage, furniture, washrooms, table setting, space between the tables and menus. For instance, low light in the environment can impact one’s comfort and safety in most of the steps in their restaurant journey including heading to their table, reading the menu, dining, going to the washroom or finding the way back to the table from the washroom and leaving the restaurant.

Impact of sensory design elements like lighting and noise is more significant for people with dementia, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), hearing impairment, visual impairment and for children as well as older adults. These create a large population who would benefit significantly from an inclusive design approach in restaurants and other services in the community.


Social connection

Another important aspect of the restaurant experience which is relevant to wait staff is a friendly and a consistent social connection. The graphic shows the sensory design elements as well as social needs in the restaurant that can impact one’s experience.

Creating Inclusive Restaurants Through Sensory Experience Design
Graphic Designed by: Rezvan Boostani | Icons from:


How to create inclusive restaurants?

The physical environment has a huge impact on people’s dining experience. Sensory design elements can improve the quality of the restaurant experience for everyone. Adaptability and flexibility of different design elements in the restaurant are features that can lead to an inclusive environment. Engagement of diverse people, early in the process of the service design, can support inclusion as well.

As part of my master’s study in Inclusive Design program at OCAD University, I worked on a set of design guidelines to make restaurants inclusive with a focus on individuals with memory impairment. This included working closely with individuals with mild dementia and their family as experts on their own experiences as well as experts of the field to see what the challenges are in the restaurant environment.

The outcome of the study is a set of design guidelines that can assist restaurant designers and restaurant owners when planning additions, renovation and modifications to their restaurants.

Five main principles emerged from the study:

  • Welcoming and friendly
  • Simplicity
  • Familiarity
  • Inclusivity and flexibility
  • Comfort and safety

The restaurant environment can be improved to attract diverse individuals with different needs. To achieve this, restaurateurs can modify design elements in their environment to attract a diverse clientele. Inclusive Restaurant design guidelines provide strategies, definitions, action plans and examples relevant to restaurant environments to make them inclusive for diverse individuals. The focus of the project is on sensory design elements and social needs in restaurants.

Full report of the project is available at:

For more information go to


Rezvan Boostani is a graduate of Master of Design in Inclusive Design program at OCAD University. She is a design thinker and a visual designer with a passion for designing inclusively, using a variety of artistic media to develop ideas and solutions that make the world a more accessible place. Rezvan also has a Master of Arts in Illustration and a Bachelor of Arts in Textile Design with extensive work experience in visual art, visual design and surface design. Her experience includes working with multidisciplinary teams like engineers, industrialists, artists and health professionals. During her graduate studies she was involved in projects focusing on Design Thinking approaches to address complexities in systems like health and welfare and collaborated with Bridgepoint Active Healthcare Hospital. The outcome of the collaboration was proposing design interventions and co-creating a streamlined transition service for stroke patients. Her main areas of focus are experience design and service design to create inclusive communal dining environments.