THE annual Carlsberg UK Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards reach their half way point this month, heralding the start of a ten-week period when hundreds of secret diners will be visiting venues, assessing them on everything from mouthwatering menus to delicious dishes and even the cleanliness of their cutlery.
But this year, the band of willing volunteers who take on this vital role have some additional criteria on their checklist; to appraise the extent to which the county's pubs, restaurants and cafes offer as pleasurable an experience as possible to those with sensory impairments, for whom eating out can be more challenging.
The new Dining For All Award was introduced to this year's competition thanks to a new partnership with NAB - Sight Support for Northamptonshire and will be presented to the venue from among the category finalists which excels in its service for those with sight and hearing difficulties.
Hugh Spence from NAB is himself visually impaired and, while he loves to eat out, says there are some easy steps that venues could take to ensure his perfect evening: "Putting the menu online means I can use my screen reader to help choose my dishes in advance, rather than relying on waiting staff to read it to me when I arrive, which not only saves on their time but also maintains my sense of independence" explained Hugh.
"It's also helpful when staff guide me as to where my glass is on the table, so that I'm not fumbling about for it, and a simple clockface description of where the various elements are on my plate just makes all the difference to my enjoyment of my meal.
"But perhaps the most important thing is to remind waiters and waitresses not to be scared to ask what assistance a diner like me might need as I promise we don't bite!"
The Awards Director, Rachel Mallows MBE of The Mallows Company, is delighted to have introduced this new award and says she hopes it will give eateries real food for thought: "Our mystery shoppers' feedback has proven to be invaluable in helping to raise service standards over the last decade and we've seen venues actively make improvements such as widening the spaces between tables to make access easier for those in wheelchairs or simply smartening up their loos.
"So we're really pleased to be adding this additional element to the competition and look forward to not only celebrating those who are already doing a great job in this regard, but also to ensuring that those with visual and aural impairments are given the chance to enjoy the best possible dining experience in the future, whichever wonderful venue they choose here in the county."
If you would like to become a Mystery Shopper, or want to find our more details about all of the categories in the Carlsberg UK Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards 2019/20, please visit the Awards' website - www.northamptonshirefoodanddrink.co.uk
Meanwhile to recommend your favourite local for the Community Pub of the Year award, or to put forward a nomination for a person, business or organisation that you believe has done more in the last year to promote local food and drink than any other in the Weetabix Local Food Hero category, contact Rachel Mallows on 01933 664437 or email email@example.com
You can also follow the Awards on Twitter and Instagram at @foodawardsHQ or on Facebook at facebook.com/foodawards
For more information about NAB - the county's leading provider of specialist advice, support and information for those who are blind or partially sighted - including details of the different ways in which you can support this vital, independent local charity, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01604 719193.