Editor’s note: This article was reprinted with permission from the AFB AccessWorld Magazine August, 2015 issue. We have broken it down into a two part series because of Ingber’s thorough research on 5 restaurants. This is part one.
Many chain restaurants have websites that include their menus. This can be a great convenience if you'd like to know what they offer in advance of visiting, or if you want to order online or by phone. This article will review the online menu accessibility of the Applebee's, Denny's, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, and Red Lobster restaurant chains. Keep in mind that many local restaurants also have their menus online, not just large chains.
Of course, if you're at the actual restaurant and you have an OCR app such as KNFB Reader or Abbyy TextGrabber, you can photograph the menu and hope the app reads it comprehensibly. Another option is to have a person with you read the menu aloud.
Both Internet Explorer for Windows and Safari for Mac were used to evaluate website menus. Window-Eyes was the screen reader used for Internet Explorer and VoiceOver was used for Safari.
1. Applebee's Online Menu Accessibility for People with Visual Impairments
Applebee's is a chain of family restaurants serving a wide variety of foods including burgers, steaks, pasta, and chicken. The restaurants stay open late and offer a menu for kids.
Applebee's website did not have any clutter. Navigating the site with the headings, links, Tab key, or Arrows worked well in both Internet Explorer and Safari.
When I loaded applebees.com for the first time, the site loaded with a nearby Applebee's location on the homepage. It wasn't the closest Applebee's, but it wasn't very far. Activating the "Location" link near the top of the page presents a search box. Results are clearly displayed. With each result was a link for viewing the local menu.
When the menu page loads, use heading or link keys for navigation. The menu is broken down into categories, including Entrees & Main Dishes, New Apps & Bar Snacks, Handcrafted Burgers, Kids, and Lunch Combos.
Activating the "Handcrafted Burgers" link presented a new page with a list of the many types of burgers served at the Applebee's location I had selected. Individual burgers could be located with headings or link hot keys. Each entry contained the name of the burger, what was on it, and the price. Activating the name link loaded another page with information about social media.
A Nutritional Info link, which opens a PDF document, is provided on all pages of the Applebee's menu. The VoiceOver Find command or the Window-Eyes Find command made it easier to find specific items and information. The PDF document had headings at the top of the page rather than next to the number. For example, "calories" was a table heading, but the heading did not appear next to the number of calories for an item.
The Applebee's website worked well with both Safari and Internet Explorer. It was a bit cumbersome to read the nutrition PDF document, but using the screen reader's Find command helped.
2. Denny's Online Menu Accessibility for People with Visual Impairments
Denny's had a big online menu that includes categories such as Breakfasts, Sandwiches, and Dinner Entrees, along with an offering for kids. Links for these categories were located near the top of the page and were clearly labeled. There was also a link to download the full menu as a PDF file, but this feature did not work well with Safari or Internet Explorer.
Activating the "Breakfast" link loaded a page with many options. Navigating by headings was an easy way to review the choices. Above each breakfast item heading was a picture with a description. For example, the description for the Belgian Waffle Slam listed all the items that came with that option. Below the heading was a "View Details" link.
On the next page, nutrition information such as calories, fat, and protein was presented in a vertical format that was easier to read than a table presentation. For example, next to the word "calories" was the number of calories in the dish. It was inconvenient that the item's price was not listed.
It was possible to find an item on the Denny's online menu and review its nutrition information with either browser. Including prices would improve the experience. The inaccessibility of the menu's PDF file was a disappointment.
3. Olive Garden Online Menu Accessibility for People with Visual Impairments
Olive Garden serves moderately priced Italian food and includes a menu for kids.
The Olive Garden homepage presented a lot of information, but it was not cluttered. There were some headings. Links were clearly labeled. The Find hot key was a useful navigation option.
When the home page loaded, I was immediately asked to allow Olive Garden to access my location. I chose to not allow access. With both Internet browsers, this made it impossible to get to the list of items within each menu category without first manually providing location information. Every page has an edit box plus instructions to put in a city or zip code before navigating. Once that information was provided, a list of the closest restaurants was presented. Each listing contained the restaurant name, address, phone number, and a "View Menu" link. Once a restaurant was selected and that link was activated, the menu could be accessed.
The menu for the selected restaurant could be viewed as a grid (default) or a list. The Dinner menu contained many items including appetizers and main courses. Just above the selection for grid or list view is a link to show more categories. When this link was activated, the entire Olive Garden menu was displayed in specific categories including Appetizers, Lighter Italian Fare, Traditional Favorites, and Create your Own Lunch Combination.
Selecting the Lighter Italian Fare link loaded several options. Each option included the price and a link to more information. Selecting an option loaded a page with a description of the dish. Below the description was a heading labeled Nutrition Facts and a link labeled Expand. The information can be read without activating the Expand link, but for VoiceOver, the table was easier to read when expanded. All the column headings were listed first and then the numbers were displayed. This made it a bit difficult to read, but it was certainly decipherable.
The site works well with both Internet Explorer and Safari. Letting Olive Garden know your location will save you extra work. Unfortunately, the nutrition information was presented in an awkward way.
Stay tuned for the next installment where Ingber will continue her review of the accessibility of two more menus at chain restaurants. But in the meantime, do you dine at any of the above chain restaurants? If so have you use the on-line menu? If you are visually impaired have you found accessing the menu easy or hard? Do you use any type of assistive technology or low vision aid to read menus when dining out? Share your thoughts and comments with us.