Making the right signs: Hyderabad bistro 'Echoes' hires differently-abled staff for a cause

A new bistro in Hyderabad hires deaf and mute staff who take the dining experience into a different league 
 

Published: 04th July 2021 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd July 2021 12:30 PM   |  A+A-

Echoes Living Spaces staff

Echoes Living Spaces staff

Eat silently and mindfully, Ayurveda advises us. Now you can also place your order silently at a restaurant. Using a bunch of cue cards you can communicate perfectly with the differently-abled staff at the new coffee shop Echoes Living Spaces in Kavuri Hills in Hyderabad and enjoy a novel dining experience via sign language. 

The 1,500 sq ft space looks like any other cool, new-age bistro catering to Gen Z. Once you step in, you will notice that all the waiters are deaf and mute. “When we started the bistro, we decided to create opportunities for this special section of society. Take it as a small attempt on our part to be inclusive,” say Sahib Sarna, Shivansh Kanwar and Sahil Gulati, the Delhi-based Co-founders and Directors of the restaurant. Currently there are 15 deaf and mute staff working in Delhi, Bengaluru and Ahmedabad, besides Hyderabad, although there were 60 before Covid struck.

For the three childhood friends who share a love of cafes that serve great burgers, fries, coffees and shakes, setting up a food venture that makes a difference to society was mutually satisfying. How to place an order? A customer rings a bell by the table. A touch sensor alerts the waiter. A spiral calendar on the table has all the cue cards required to convey what you would like to eat. You point out the dish you want on the menu and order via gestures. The dishes are identified using alphanumericals. From ‘pack my leftovers’ to ‘call the manager’ cards, all what you want in the restaurant is on the cards. 

 the earmarked space for sign language

The bistro in Hyderabad started in April 2021 with Saif Ali, Pirpinjari and Prakash Reddy as the front office staff. “When our staff interacts with the guests, we notice the decibel levels dropping in the restaurant since the other guests are watching. It’s fascinating to watch someone who can speak actually talk to someone who cannot,” says Amchai Debbarma, Manager. “They can’t talk and that instinctively calms us. We pause for a few seconds to convert our words into actions and emote the same. Customers are more sensitive and kind when they deal with our staff compared to the others,” he adds. 

What makes the disabled staff the right fit for the job? “They use all their remaining senses to understand the customer, which shows in the quality and precision of their work. In fact, their competence made us change our approach last year by creating assembly lines and modules to train them in different roles such as barista and kitchen staff. By not limiting their roles to servers or floor managers,  their confidence has been boosted. When guests give them the thumbs-up, they feel they have done the right thing.

The menu is exhaustive, covering everything bistro goers love—Asian-Italian, Mexican-Chinese, Tibetan, Indian fusion food. As with most cafes, Echoes sells more noodles, pasta and thin crust pizzas besides Tandoori momos. “There is an earmarked space for sign language and our guests often spend a few minutes learning and even trying it out on our staff. The session usually ends up with peals of laughter and camaraderie,” says Debbarma. Good food and good laughter often go together as long as the right signs are there.



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