November issue 2006

By | Food | Life Style | Published 18 years ago

It’s 10:30 on a Tuesday night in Karachi. The KFC outlet on Main University Road in Gulshan-e-Iqbal is not too busy. There are four groups of customers scattered around the clean restaurant. If it wasn’t for an overhead sign that greets customers on entering, there would be little hint that this KFC is any different from the others across the city: music is blaring overhead, the menu up high behind the counter looks the same and the staff move around in the standard red and black uniforms.

But there is a difference. A powerful difference. And the sign says it all: “Proudly operated by hearing and speech impaired team members.”

At this KFC, 27 deaf staff take orders, cook and clean over two shifts, covering every minute of the restaurant’s operation, seven days a week. Open since April 18, it was the first restaurant of its kind in Pakistan. There is now a similarly run KFC in Lahore, and there are plans for another in Rawalpindi.

But this difference doesn’t make ordering difficult. Illustrative mini-menus are fixed to the counters, so customers can easily point out their orders. The more adventurous can try signing their orders. It may sound daunting, but is surprisingly easy. Large posters display the hand gestures for each menu item. The signs for fries, chicken, tea and even corn on the cob are all intuitive. To order corn, for example, with your index finger pointing out, raise your right hand to your mouth, touching your jutting index finger to your lips.

And don’t worry. If you get stuck, there are hearing-abled communicators to bridge the communication gap. So far, however, in the almost seven months of operations there have been few problems with the public. “One out of 100 customers complain,” says Amjad Ghani, manager at the Gulshan outlet, explaining there are people who are not accepting of the changes in the ordering process.

Efficiency in the restaurant remains unaffected, though. Around the kitchen, bells have been replaced with light bulbs to indicate when orders are ready. And the staff move around competently and confidently. The opportunity to work and prove themselves has meant a lot to the employees.

“This is my first job,” says Salman, 22, in sign language. He’s been at the restaurant since day one. He had a few problems at first, adjusting to the new environment and interacting with the public, but now he says he’s “comfortable and happy.”

And that’s exactly the vibe the restaurant emits: comfortable and happy. In the end, the differences at this KFC are minor, and if anything, they add to the dining experience.