M & Gaucho owner highlights need for blind dog access

Martin Williams, CEO of Rare Restaurants, owner of renowned restaurant groups M & Gaucho, was invited by Guide Dogs for the Blind to be take a ‘guided blind walk’ with a guide dog in Central London on Wednesday.

The restaurateur is keen to highlight the ignorance of some restaurants when it comes to blind dog access, following an incident in which blind handler Dave Kent and his guide dog were refused access to a Franco Manca site in August 2018.

By participating in the guided walk, Williams was exposed to the shock of how it feels to walk London’s busy streets with zero sight. Williams is passionate about the importance of enabling accessibility for all potential customers at his restaurants and believes that the acceptance of dogs – in particular ‘assistance dogs’ – is paramount to this.

M was this week shortlisted for three awards in the ‘Blue Badge Access Awards’ and later this year will host a party for 50 guide dogs (training, working and retired) and their handlers at M Victoria St. By doing so, he hopes to raise awareness of their magnificence and the continued stigma against both assistance and non-working dogs in restaurants.

The exercise highlighted the complete reliance on all elements of life that blind people have on their dogs and Williams sees it as vital that they are welcomed into restaurants. Williams was guided by Vale, a 20-month-year-old Golden Retriever Labrador cross. and was joined by Dave Kent and his Labrador, Chad.

Williams said, “The blind walk was both incredible and emotional! In the absence of the sense of sight, all other senses and emotions were heightened to extremes. The trust you must put in your dog is both liberating and intimidating.

'The biggest obstacle on my hour- long blinded walk was the people moving around me. Imagine the hurdle of a human denying you and your guide dog entry to a cafe´, bar, or restaurant - it is a shameful act that has no place in hospitality. May I thank Dave and the Guide Dogs for the Blind team for such an educational and special experience.”

Dave Kent, Engagement Officer at Guide Dogs for the Blind, said, “I’m so grateful for Martin and his restaurants for welcoming those of us that our blind and our dogs. So many restaurants in the UK are not so generous and refuse to give guide dogs and their handlers entrance.

'This is an absolutely unacceptable state of affairs and needs to be challenged at the highest level. I very much look forward to the guide dog party that Martin is hosting at his restaurant in Victoria, London. These animals are magnificent life-savers and deserve a good celebration!”