Deaf-Dining Comes to Vancouver: New Concept Restaurant Uses Sign Language and Deaf Servers

Photo sourced from Deafined.ca

Photo sourced from Deafined.ca

Vancouver has lots of Mediterranean restaurants. But only one allows you to order your hummus, baba ghanoush and tabbouleh in sign language.

A new concept restaurant in Kitsilano is staffed entirely by deaf servers and encourages guests to communicate in a combination of American Sign Language and written notes. Called Deafined, the restaurant on West 4th Avenue is only the third in North America to focus on hiring deaf or hard-of-hearing staff.

Deafined is the creation of local restaurateur Moe Alameddine, already known for his unique blind-dining eatery Dark Table. Opened in 2012, Dark Table employs blind or visually impaired staff, and patrons eat their meals in complete darkness. With Deafined, he’s set his sights on “promoting American Sign Language and offering employment opportunities fore the deaf and hard of hearing,” while also serving up “exquisite fusion fare in a warm, welcoming environment.”

So how does it all work?

Photo sourced from logo-kid.com

Photo sourced from logo-kid.com

When diners arrive, they’re approached by an interpreter who introduces one of Deafined’s 10 deaf servers. The interpreter is on hand to help communications along, but guests are encouraged to learn and use some sign language throughout the course of the meal to communicate with their server.

On the menu, each option is numbered and accompanied by a drawing of the sign for the corresponding number. Diners can either point or sign the number of their menu item to the server. As part of the experience, servers help guests to form the sign correctly, ensuring there’s no confusion. For picky eaters – who require substitutions or special menu options – there’s paper and pencils to jot down requests.

Apart from breaking down barriers, the restaurant also fulfills a key role: providing employment opportunities for the deaf community. The Canadian Association for the Deaf reports that an estimated 350,000 Canadians are deaf and only 20 percent are able to secure full-time employment. Especially in the hospitality industry, the deaf community is underrepresented.

And how about the food?  Starters and mains at Deafined show a strong Lebanese influence and are moderately priced. Familiar suspects like hummus ($7.50) and tabbouleh ($8.50) are complemented by delicacies like braised lamb shank ($25), shish tawook chicken kebabs ($19) and lamb burgers with mint and pistachio ($19).  As for how to order your burger “medium-rare” in sign language, the servers at Deafined should be able to help you out with that one.

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