Author: Nicholas Clark
For more information on disabilities at UN level see our blog here.
A welcoming elegance, bright design and curious wooden ornaments met us as we entered the restaurant. An air of class quickly filled the space previous unsure excitement of what a socially inclusive restaurant might bring. It was immediately clear from the moment we stepped into the building that we were in for a truly fine-dining experience.
Once seated, the cutlery was delicately placed by our waiter and a COVID safe menu via QR code was made available. Everything was taken care of and the menu, while simple, was articulately clear and catered to all the needs of our culturally diverse group. We received a warm introduction from our waitress who ensured we all had what we needed, and took care to recommend a delicious wine, which met with approval from all at the table and who ensured our glasses were never empty for long. While ordering, the excited sounds of “ums and ahhs” from our table while deciding what to choose could be heard. Alongside this, we had the chance to appreciate the polite decor of the restaurant, and observed the restaurant staff, efficiently yet effortlessly working their allocated tables with pure professionalism.
Upon arrival of the food, the quality of the restaurant became clear. Eight people previously engaged in deep conversation fell silent as each tried their own selected dish. Not much could be done, except look at one another across and up and down the table with facial gestures that clearly expressed the shear deliciousness of the food. The presentation, the service, the charm and the professionalism of this restaurant was the focus of the afternoon’s conversation, as we compared it to all the best restaurants we had globally and collectively experienced.
A socially inclusive business?
While this restaurant does not break the bank, it does do a lot to break stereotypes and misconceptions. 65 degrés is known for being a socially inclusive restaurant, in which 75% of all the staff are young people with disabilities. The employees working at our table were people with autism and down syndrome, and their excellent training, professionalism and individuality, ensured that they provided an exquisite dining experience, which we all agreed, was equal to the best service that we had ever experienced.
The barriers broken down by this business model were exceptional. A training scheme which develops staff with disabilities to train and work together, developing a productive and successful professional service, that culminated in making us feel that we were the most important people in the restaurant.
The training schedule is long, rigorous and repetitive but leaves those who complete it as trusted, empowered employees. This trust is felt by the employees, which is empowering as it provides the acknowledgement needed to know that they are able to do the job, where in the words of one of the employees:
The manager, masterfully and peacefully leads with admirable esteem from all involved, and prioritises calmness in all areas of the restaurant. This not only helps ensure the well-being of the employees but enhances the dining experience itself! We were fortunate and appreciative that he generously gave us his time, when we requested that he explained the history and the concept of the restaurant, with a specific focus on the social empowerment of the staff. It was admirable to hear that through managing this team and project he has “relearned the essence of who we are”, stating that the restaurant is not always perfect but that:
“[he] is satisfied when workers are capable of hiding their errors”. In his experience, this is interpreted as workers ensuring the smooth and professional activities of the restaurant are effectively maintained.
Experienced workers often become trainers themselves. The business model allows people to far exceed the expectations often given by society and habitually their own families. As with everyone in society, having a job can help to gain respect, the employees at 65 degrés have a true appreciation of work and employment, and are productive members of society.
The challenge for this type of business, is that the product needs to be above and beyond the competition in order to be economically sustainable. And from my experience it is. I certainly recommend this restaurant for any purpose, business or pleasure, intimate or in a group, as did all the guests on the day of our visit. The quality absolutely shines, and you will be left in awe of what is possible if we all remove the barriers in society for disabled individuals, who are often seen as different to the majority.
65 degrés have a promotional video on their website
Avenue Louise 173, 1000 Bruxelles