CSR comes to uptown cafes - with specially abled employees

Wednesday, 30 March 2011, 19:20 Hrs
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New Delhi: When Natasha Seth, a young marketing professional, ordered her favourite cup of cappuccino and chocolate chip muffin at a Costa Coffee outlet here, it took her a while to realise that the man at the billing counter was deaf and dumb. That didn't stop him from doing his job perfectly, of course.

Indians are being pleasantly surprised these days with the presence of differently-abled workers, who are manning the billing counters, brewing aromatic coffee, blending mocktails, heating up the food and even waiting tables at popular cafes and restaurants across the country.

KFC, Cafe Coffee Day and Barista Lavazza , apart from Costa Coffee, are a few such haunts where speech- and hearing-impaired people are being employed as part of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

"We have been hiring specially-abled people for the past two years, but the trend has been noticed more over the past six months. It is wonderful that people are talking about it and consumers have been appreciating it," Santhosh Unni, CEO, Costa Coffee, told IANS.

The idea is to give back to society by giving equal opportunity to every citizen.

Sanjay Coutinho, CEO, Barista Lavazza, told IANS, "We believe in being an 'equal opportunity' employer by building an inclusive and diverse workplace.

"We strive to proactively contribute to community development as a responsible corporate citizen, mainly through supporting people with limitations to enhance the quality of their lives."

Customers simply have to point out the orders on the menu when it comes to the hearing- and speech-impared waiters.

Some popular eateries are also doing it. Yum! Restaurant India, which runs eating joints like KFC and Pizza Hut , truly believes in believing all people.

"One of our principles - believe in all people - underscores the importance of actively seeking diversity, believing everyone has the potential to make a difference, and coaching and supporting every individual to grow to their full capacity," said Binoo Wadhwa, director, HR, Yum! Restaurants India.

"We believe, we are sensitive employers and take great pride in giving employment to people with special abilities."

Yum! Restaurants boasts of eight specially abled KFC stores here and has 170 specially- abled employees.

The special candidates need to have cleared Class 12, or in some cases, Class 10. The lucky ones are picked and trained to suit the job's requirement.

"Fortunately, there isn't too much work at a cafe. There are three key jobs - operating the bill counter, making the coffee, and serving it. The most difficult is to make coffee, but these special employees are doing a fabulous job and making their presence felt in all three spaces," said Unni.

As far as salary goes, differently-abled people are not discriminated against on the basis of their physical shortcomings.

"Our minimum starting salary is 8,300 per month, but it differs from state to state. We do not differentiate between the pay of our special employees from the regular ones," said Unni.

Employers also take special care to train the regular staff in sign language to facilitate easy communication at the outlets.

However, even if some customers end up getting the wrong order, they choose to ignore rather than fuss around.

"What they do despite their shortcomings is commendable. If we start pointing out their faults, it will be highly discouraging. If the employers are confident that they can match the regular staff's capabilities, the least we can do as customers is to appreciate their little efforts," said Gautam Sinha, a law student.

Wadhwa agreed and said: "Such stores (with specially-abled staff) may be a lot quieter, but definitely not less efficient. These employees leave no stone unturned to make sure the operations are as smooth as in any other store.

"The consumers feel extremely touched and a lot of them patronise our stores because of this initiative. Managers across all stores also claim that there has never been a complaint from any of the customers," she said.

Most customers go back home with a smile on their face after being able to interact conveniently with the differently-abled, without even knowing the sign language.

Said Shikha Goswami, a Delhi University student sitting at a Cafe Coffee Day outlet in south Delhi, "They are smart...even if it requires a little more out of us to write our order on a piece of paper or point out our order on the menu card, what's the harm?

"It feels so good to encourage them and just a 'thumbs up' from them after they deliver the right order on the table makes you feel good as a human being."
Source: IANS
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