Eating Out with a Guide Dog
I do love going out for a nice meal. It is one of my favourite pastimes. I also love trying new food, so I’m always looking for new restaurants to visit. The majority of the time I do go out, I am also accompanied by my ever faithful friend and loyal companion, Tai. As she is a guide dog, by law, she should be entitled to come everywhere with me, but unfortunately not everyone knows this and access refusals are a more common occurrence than we would like them to be.
Personally I have only ever been point blank refused access to one restaurant and that was a Chinese restaurant in Altrincham. This was a good few years ago now, when myself and Neil were still very new to Altrincham and really wasn’t a very pleasant experience or welcome. Thankfully, since then, our restaurant experiences in our local area have been far more welcoming and enjoyable. In fact, it is part of the reason why we love living here so much, there are so many fantastic places to eat.
Unfortunately though, on several occasions, I have had to stand my ground when going in to a restaurant for the first time, as their initial response has been to say my guide dog is not allowed in here. Usually once I explain what she is and the law, they back down and let me in. However, this does not make me feel very welcome and spoils my eating out experience. It is a good job I know my rights and I’m willing to fight for them, but I shouldn’t have to do it, as restaurants should know the law and make sure all their staff are aware of it. I generally will not return to a restaurant if I have had to argue to get in, as even if the food is amazing, it is not worth it. There are so many places that do know the law, do make me feel welcome and do incredible food, that I shouldn’t have to go through the experience of feeling like a lesser person than anybody else.
It does always make me slightly nervous, whenever I’m going to a new restaurant, in case I have to experience any unpleasantness, but I can not afford to let this prevent me from doing something I enjoy. One way I use to try and avoid having to deal with a refusal, is to always book in advance and alert the restaurant to the fact I will be bringing a guide dog with me. This generally means that if I have to explain what a guide dog is, then I can do it over the phone and get things sorted before I get to the restaurant. It also gives me a good indication of the type of reception I’m going to receive when I arrive and can change my mind if I feel it is going to be a bad one. I shouldn’t have to do this though, I should feel like I have the freedom to just turn up somewhere on a whim and be welcomed, no matter what. I shouldn’t have to always plan in advance, after all, my guide dog is there to give me independence and freedom to live my life like anybody else.
I don’t ask, or expect, to be treated any differently than anybody else, when I arrive at a restaurant with a guide dog. Treat me like you would treat any other guest. However, how my guide dog is received has a massive impact on my opinion and experience of a place to eat. Its the little things that make a massive difference I find, like giving us a table with extra room for her to lie down, or asking if they can get a bowl of water for her, but I really don’t expect these. They are just nice bonuses. Don’t get me wrong, I do love it if when I go somewhere, the restaurant staff make a massive fuss of my guide dog. It is always far more pleasant if my loyal friend is made to feel as welcome as I do, but I also enjoy it when I am treated just like any other restaurant guest and no attention whatsoever is drawn to the fact that a four-legged, furry creature is helping me live my life to the max.
Guide dogs are trained to lie down quietly when in any social environment, like a cafe or restaurant. They should not look for attention, beg for food, or be moving around. They should not interfere with other restaurant guests and it should be like they are not there. I love it when I stand up to leave and people say things like, “Oh, I didn’t realise there was a dog”. That means the dog has done what it should do.
I feel the majority of access problems with guide dogs is down to a lack of education. Cultural differences and language barriers often mean that people don’t really understand the fantastic job that guide dogs do. From experience, I have found that as soon as people understand, they are far more willing to be accomidating. However, there are others that are just purely ignorant and don’t care about the impact their actions can have. Guide dog owners are people after all, we have feelings and rights and are entitled to be treated like everyone else. Treat us like you would wish to be treated. Don’t treat us any differently. We are already very well aware of our difference, so don’t draw attention to this fact. And definitely don’t patronise us, we are perfectly capable of eating a meal out with friends and that doesn’t make us special.
If reading this has resulted in any questions, then please send them my way. If you have experienced any access difficulties, then the first thing to do is to report them to Guide Dogs and they will help you deal with the situation in the correct way. I find the easiest way to deal with it is to tell yourself that you are not the one with the problem, it is them. They are the ones that are missing out, not you, but this is far easier said than done. It really isn’t a pleasant experience being refused. In fact, it is very upsetting. The first time it happened to me, it made me feel physically sick. I was shaking for ages and just wanted to cry. Since then I’ve developed a harder shell, but thats me. It effects everyone differently.
Thank you for reading and speak soon.