London's streets are flooded with restaurants to get stuck into a wonderful meal out – but how many of them are suited for a guide dog and their handler? Although anti-discrimination laws are in place, the charity Guide Dogs UK states that 81 per cent of guide dog owners have been refused entry into a business or service – meaning that there are still many restaurant staff and owners who are not educated on how to welcome assistance dogs into their premises.
While I hope that the hospitality industry starts catching up with the law sooner rather than later, I'm here to save you time and money so you can give your hard-earned purple pounds to the loveliest and most accommodating places I've found that have given me and my fluffy eyes a good time. Luckily, there are lots of excellent places for you to dine out on your next work lunch or birthday meal that are free of stress and ableism. But first…
What makes a restaurant guide dog friendly?
As someone who has relied on guide dogs for nearly a decade, I can tell you that there are many factors to consider when determining whether a restaurant is truly guide dog friendly. Some of these may not resonate with every blind person's experience, but here are a few top-line requirements that help when Miss Molly (my guide dog) is doing her job.
Firstly, the physical layout is crucial. Is there enough room between tables and furniture for you both to get by? If there isn't, can a reliable, trained waiter guide you safely to a regular table?
Next, consider the music. Is it loud? Place yourself away from the speakers and ask staff to turn the speakers down so you can hear what your guide dog and company are saying and doing. Staff should be accommodating to your needs – for a restaurant to be guide dog friendly, staff must understand that this is necessary for a guide dog to do their job. I once was at a bar where they fed my guide dog biscuits without me knowing, which is not acceptable – giving a working dog anything without permission from the handler could place the blind person's life at risk.
Lastly, great service is having a dog bowl brought to the table when bringing out drinks for the humans. Plus, it is a huge tick for me when a restaurant has a sign saying “No dogs allowed other than assistance dogs” – this minimises disruption for those who have assistance dogs.
Below, find my favourite London restaurants that have guide dog access.
I went to this Shoreditch restaurant with friends and absolutely loved it – the patatas bravas were out of this world. After descending some stairs, we were greeted by some friendly waiters who sat us at a table away from the noise. In the middle of our meal, I asked the waitress where the disabled toilet was and she guided me there herself. This felt great as my fiancé could continue chatting to the rest of our group while I went – which is not a common occurrence at a restaurant I have never visited before. The best thing about this restaurant was that the disabled bathroom was easy to get to with a guide dog and big enough for us to fit in together.
Address: BiBo Shoreditch, 45 Curtain Road, London EC2A 3PT
Bar 31, The Shard, London Bridge
This is a great bar with a lovely outdoor seating area and plenty of space. The food was delicious, and the waiter brought a bowl for my dog. I have been in many questionable disabled toilets in my time, but the experience here felt seriously elevated – the bathroom in The Shard building was seriously spacious.
Address: Bar 31, Ground Floor, 31 St Thomas Street, London SE1 9QU
Franco Manca, King's Cross
As soon as I sat at this pizza restaurant, the waiter instantly handed me a braille menu. There was ample room around the tables for my guide dog to move around, and if we were staying there for a longer time, I would have been able to place her blanket and bone down there if necessary. When I ordered my pizza, the waiter asked if I needed it sliced up. This was such a welcome question and proved that the restaurant had clearly provided some accessibility training, as it helps me eat more quickly when I don't need to worry about cutting up my food.
Address: Franco Manca King's Cross, 62-68 York Way, London N1 9FA
Sale e Pepe, Knightsbridge
Located down a side street near Harrods, this restaurant is quite small but it made up for its size in other ways. The pasta is some of the nicest I've ever eaten; it's all traditional Italian pasta made from scratch – I had the ravioli al pomodoro, and it was so delicious. The waiters are really lovely and went above and beyond to help. This is so important as it really feels like half the battle when you have a disability. If staff are willing to help and are accommodating, I can forgive a slightly cramped location – as long as my guide dog is out of harm's way with enough room.
Address: Sale e Pepe, 9-15 Pavilion Road, London SW1X 0HD
The Ivy Asia, Mayfair
If you want to splash out for a special treat in Mayfair, this is the place to go – I've been here a few times and have never had a problem. There is a good disabled toilet and the waiters are great. I particularly like the cutlery and differently shaped glassware, which makes for a lovely tactile experience. I've found other Ivy restaurants too cramped, but this one is far more roomy – my guide dog is really able to stretch out and be comfortable here which makes for a much more enjoyable dining experience for me.
Address: The Ivy Asia Mayfair, 8-10 N Audley Street, London W1K 6ZD
Kricket in Soho was so delicious – I had a paratha for the first time here and I can't believe I hadn't had one sooner. There are lots of different types of seats at Kricket, but the best place for us was on one of the picnic benches so my guide dog could sit at the end of the table. This worked for us, but there are quite a few options if you want a little more space, so make sure to request where you want to be. They brought water out for my dog straight away, and we could both fit in the toilet. The service was great – the waiters were really excellent at announcing what they have brought to the table, which I found really helpful as sometimes dishes get placed down and I am none the wiser.
Address: Kricket Soho, 12 Denman Street, London W1D 7HJ