Let’s Hear it For Restaurants For the Deaf!

Will your order for minestrone soup fall on deaf ears at a brand-new restaurant in Toronto? Yes, it will, and that’s a good thing.

The aptly-named Signs Restaurant, scheduled to open July 16, will be Canada’s first restaurant mostly staffed by deaf servers. The establishment will raise awareness of deaf culture by hiring deaf servers, and requiring all customers to order in sign language. If needed, they can get assistance from a “cheat book” that illustrates how to sign menu items.

What a cool idea!

Here’s how it got started: when owner Anjan Manikumar was a manager at a pizza joint, he noticed one of his regular guests was deaf. Seeing how difficult it was for his customer to order, Manikumar decided to learn American Sign Language (ASL), beginning with the basics: “hello,” for starters, a salute-like wave of the hand. And most important, “enjoy”–a two-handed chest and belly rub.

“He was very delighted. He brought his friends the next day,” says Manikumar, who has since broadened his ASL vocabulary through interactions with the deaf community.

From that moment of prime customer service came the idea for Signs Restaurant, where the deaf can work and dine using their language, and the hearing can learn about the deaf community. And they can all enjoy a good meal together!

Deaf Restaurants Across North America

Signs is just the latest in a string of hangouts for the deaf. Russ and Melody Stein, who are both deaf, opened Mozzeria, a pizza restaurant in San Francisco, in 2011.

As they explained to The New York Times, they ran into plenty of problems, such as people who themselves would become speechless as they had never met deaf people before, and government and business reps who needed to be told to arrange for ASL interpreters to communicate with them.

As is the custom in deaf culture, the Steins looked first for deaf artisans or laborers to fill their needs. Almost everything in the restaurant was designed or built by deaf people, as was all the artwork on the walls. They hired deaf and ASL signers.

At Mozzeria, foodies are not required to sign their orders; instead, everyone carries paper and pen to communicate with hearing guests. And did I mention, the Neapolitan pizza is delicious!

There are also restaurants for the deaf in Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach, San Diego, and San Antonio.

Culture Of Deaf Restaurants Flourishing In Washington, D.C.

But it is in Washington, D.C., home to Gallaudet University, the world’s only university specifically designed for deaf people, that the culture of deaf bars and restaurants has really taken off.

Over the past decade, H Street NE has emerged as the city’s nexus of deaf youth culture: not just one restaurant, but a number of bars and restaurants.

There’s H&Pizza, where everyone is trained to learn basic signs: “thank you,” “hello,” “pepperoni?” Michael Lastoria, the restaurant’s co-owner, said he quickly realized those skills were needed to succeed. His first eight customers were deaf.

At the Biergarten Haus down the street, bartenders hand out menus and wait for customers to point to their selection. Then, the bartenders sign the price.

Up and down H Street restaurants and bars are reaching out to deaf customers. There’s even a deaf trivia contest at the Vendetta restaurant. On a recent Monday night, the place was packed with at least 80 attendees, with groups of friends conversing with their hands. The organizers believe this is the first bar trivia night of its kind.

As these eateries have become more popular, Gallaudet staff members have held weekend crash courses for business owners to learn about deaf culture. They instruct the owners about etiquette, from always carrying around a pen and paper to feeling comfortable with tapping deaf people on the shoulder to get their attention.

These exciting new developments are all about offering services for the deaf, but also about bridging the gap between the hearing and non-hearing community.

And everyone enjoys a good meal!

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

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Janet B.
Janet B.about a year ago


Donna F.
Donna F.about a year ago

great idea!

Graham Parker
Graham P.about a year ago

@Joanna M don't be so shallow, where is your sense of adventure? Maybe deaf people would find you annoying.Great idea and very positive, learn from it folks.

Jane C.
Jane C.about a year ago

As a hearing person, I would like to visit one of these establishments. Pizza is a universal language, anyway.

Natasha Salgado
Natasha Salgadoabout a year ago

Interesting idea. Wish them great success.

Franck R.
Franck R.about a year ago

Thank you

Joanna M.
Joanna M.about a year ago

While I can understand their angle for deaf patrons, as a hearing person I would probably never go to such a place, simply because I'd find it annoying to have to communicate with the staff this way. I imagine many others would feel the same. So the clientele will likely be fairly limited, to the deaf/HOH and their family/friends. If that turns out to be the case, I can't imagine they'd have enough business to stay open...

Francesca A-S
Past Member about a year ago

Wonderful idea, and good that it is being put into practice. Thanks for sharing

Nancy Gizuk
Nancy Gizukabout a year ago

Thank you

Janis K.
Janis K.about a year ago

Thanks for sharing