March 05, 2018

A&W Serves a Side of Confidence

How one restaurant chain is leading the charge on accessible dining with MagnusCards

Walk to the counter. Scan the menu. Order the classic: a burger paired with a frothy, glass mug of root beer.

The transactional nature of ordering a meal at a fast food restaurant seems like second nature. But break down that process further and a lot of new challenges emerge.

Find the restaurant. Find the door. Walk in and attempt to parse through a cacophony of noises — music, conversation, the sound of sizzling burgers on a flattop. Keep up with the ever-changing pace of a moving cue. Decide what to order from a colorful menu where every item looks as good as the last. Decide to dine in, or take out. Do you want ketchup? Find the table your friends are sitting at.

Restaurants are a sensory experience all the way from the cash register to the last sip of that cold, fizzing root beer — which is exactly why A&W partnered with Magnusmode. Over 900 A&W stores across the country are now taking considerable steps to offer a more accessible guest experience.

“Restaurants are a high energy place for people of all walks of life,” says Marla Gerein, the Director of Restaurant Training and Transformation at A&W Food Services of Canada. “We care deeply about our guests and want to provide the best service to everyone, including people with cognitive special needs.”

At A&W, Magnusmode services take the form of digital, how-to-guides, called Card Decks, hosted in the MagnusCards app. With the help of this app, users can quickly flip through the illustrated steps that outline some important parts of the A&W experience: ordering a meal to go, ordering a meal for the dining room, some things you can order at A&W, getting condiments, napkins and straws, and cleaning up after your meal.

“Our five decks cover the basics of coming in to order, going through options, and understanding how the process can play out differently. Ultimately, the Card Decks help people to feel confident, to not worry, and to have a great transaction,” Gerein says.

A&W’s recent decision to work with Magnusmode on custom Card Decks wasn’t a tough call for Gerein or the A&W team at large. Given that more than 750,000 Canadians are identified as having an intellectual or developmental disability, their needs touch everyone.

“At one of our staff meetings where everybody gets together virtually or physically, we celebrated this partnership, and talked about how many of our families are touched by autism,” says Gerein. “It was amazing to feel the pride in the room.”

“My nephew is on the autism spectrum, and my sister used to draw out guides for him, or print pictures from the computer,” Gerein says. “When the A&W Card Decks were ready, I sent them to my sister right away. She got tears in her eyes because of how wonderful the tool could be as an empowering element.”

A&W franchises have a number of elements in place that highlight a company-wide commitment to accessibility: image-driven menus, friendly staff and ample avenues for guest feedback top the list. For Gerein, building a set of MagnusCards to help guide guests through the sensory experience of ordering at any restaurant location was just another logical step in providing a great experience for everyone.

“A&W is very much willing and wanting to do the right thing,” Gerein says of the company’s decision to partner with Magnusmode. That partnership has immediate impact for people with cognitive special needs and their family — a stress-free, confidence-building, delicious dining option is now available across the country. But arguably, Magnusmode’s role in their order is part of something that lasts much longer than a frothy root beer will.

“Right now, everyone is grappling with the idea of offering a great guest experience in a fast-paced world, a tech-enabled world,” Gerein says. “Those factors change, but we’ll always have the responsibility of including every Canadian, regardless of differences.”