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At first sight, Toronto's newly opened 'Signs' restaurant appears like any other casual dining establishment. However the difference starts to become apparent as soon as diners walk in and the host or hostess welcomes them using American Sign Language (ASL). That trend continues throughout the meal as everyone, from the wait staff to the busboys, communicate only via hand gestures.
In case you are wondering, the 150-person restaurant that opened its doors in July 2014, is not trying to establish a new craze, but simply allowing their staff to interact the only way they can. That's because most of the restaurant employees are hearing impaired.
The brainchild of Anjan Manikumar, Signs is the first restaurant of its kind in Canada. The entrepreneur says he was inspired by a deaf customer who frequented a pizzeria, that he once managed.
Since none of the employees knew sign language, the customer was forced to place his order, by pointing at the items on the menu.
To make him feel more welcome, Anjan learnt some basic ASL words like 'hello' and 'enjoy'. This made the customer so happy, that he returned the following day with a deaf friend in tow.
This led Anjan to wonder if there was more that could be done for this underserved community and the idea of Signs was born.
Anjan says that the restaurant provides a comfortable dining environment for both the hearing impaired, as well as, able-bodied customers interested in learning or practicing their ASL skills.
In order to accommodate people that are not familiar with sign language, the restaurant has created menus with the appropriate gestures next to each item. A cheat sheet also allows diners to convey any special dietary needs they may have. In addition, wall-mounted photographs illustrate signs for common words that may be helpful - things like how to order standard alcoholic drinks. Not surprisingly, the novel idea seems to be resonating with the locals, who are flocking to Signs in droves.
Though this is Canada's first such restaurant, it is not the first ever to cater to the ASL community. San Francisco's Mozzeria, whose owners are also deaf, as well as, Café Signes in Paris, have both been operating successfully for many years now. The O.Noir restaurants in Montreal and Toronto have a similar concept, except here the staff is visually impaired, which means that diners get to experience what it is like to eat in complete darkness!