Where cafes can do better for older customers and those with dementia

I’ve just written an article about how far retailers have come in understanding dementia – but how far they still have to go in taking action to make life easier.

I believe that every organisation that wants to include the growing population of seniors needs to take stock of not just how they train their staff but how they offer their services. And that’s not just for those with dementia. It’s for anyone who starts to have challenges such as loss of mobility, deteriorating hearing and sight, slower reactions – and even different views on what constitutes good service.

Here’s an example.

We have locally a hugely successful garden centre, farm shop and PYO farm. People come long distances to visit.

The garden centre has just spent a serious amount of money on building a very glamourous new café. It’s big, looks good and offers a huge range of delicious cakes.
But there are aspects that don’t work for an older clientele. That’s especially true for the growing population who are living reasonably successfully with dementia and can still manage on their own for the most part.

picjumbo.com_HNCK4347What are the guidelines that could have helped?

1. Low noise. Even with just a few people in the café the acoustics are really poor. Anyone with poor hearing will struggle quite quickly. People with dementia are disturbed by loud noise. On the plus side there isn’t any of the piped music that can bring conversation to a halt during many a pub lunch.

2. Clear paths. There’s no obvious and clear route to the café from the entrance to the garden centre. Tucked away at the back of the garden centre the café isn’t (yet) clearly signposted and there’s no “roadway”. You have to find your own path around the displays. Great for those who want to browse on their way in but perplexing for those who need simplicity. And as with many places, finding the way out again is difficult too.

3. Straightforward purchasing. Instructions for ordering meals are confusing. There are no menus on the tables so you find your table number, then go back to the noticeboard to choose a meal, then queue up to order it? I haven’t quite worked that one out yet.

4. Logical and consistent routes. The central serving area is circular and you can go to the left or the right. But on the two visits I’ve made, you can’t go right, and the way is sort of blocked by a notice board. Confusing again.

5. Really helpful staff. There are plenty of staff but it’s hard to know who, if anyone, is going to take your order, make your coffee and actually hand over the drink. It seems to take three people. That’s perplexing for anyone, and adding to the challenge is the fact that internal communication (aka chatting to your friend) seems to take priority over serving.

6. Easy access to facilities. They’ve got this right. Along with the café they’ve built new toilets and with a bit more signposting they’ll be very useful. And I can’t comment on how easy the facilities are to use as I’ve yet to use them! But simplicity and common sense are a priority for this market however much being design clever appeals.

7. Comfort. Again, that’s fine. The table seating is very easy to use.

8. Décor. Loud decoration and confusing patterns aren’t good for those with dementia. This café is simple, sophisticated and has lovely views out over the farm fields. So more brownie points.

9. Accessibility. It’s reasonably easy to manoeuvre wheelchairs through to the café (and anyone who doesn’t make this work could have issues with regulations). No steps anywhere and there’s plenty of space between displays, so everyone can get to anywhere in the garden centre. Full marks.

This café will be a great success. But it may not get repeat business from all the senior customers who visit it because there are too many small challenges that add up to a less than perfect customer experience. And for retail businesses today, getting the customer experience right is absolutely vital.