Cowboys and cowgirls country public bathrooms restaurant

According to the National Restaurant Association, there are more than 1,000,000 locations serving food in the U.S.

What do all of the places have in common?

  • They all have restrooms
  • They all are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Restroom requirements for restaurants can be a confusing and touchy subject. There are local, state and federal requirements.

Different agencies are in charge of enforcement. They can sometimes conflict. Top all of that off with large fines or lawsuits if you get it wrong.

What are you supposed to do? As a veteran-owned business with a focus on making public restrooms available to everyone, Choice Builder Solutions is here to tell you what makes the bathrooms at your establishment ADA compliant. Find out more here. 

ADA Is a Federal Law

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) dates to 1990. It prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. This includes things like accessing restaurants and using the restroom.

ADA set minimum standards for new construction as well as alterations of facilities. State and local laws build on these minimums. The laws give design parameters to meet the needs of all people, including those with disabilities.

How Many Water Closets?

Good restroom design means meeting the needs of customers and employees. It includes both men and women and makes provisions for wheelchair access. 

The plumbing code recommends one toilet or water closet for every 30 women and every 60 men. Small restaurants may have employee and customer restrooms combined.

Bigger establishments generally must provide separate facilities for customers and employees. The assumption is that bigger establishments have multi-user restrooms. Two or more people may use the facilities at the same time.

Most restaurants with seating must provide a restroom for customer use.  Local laws determine how small is small enough to avoid providing a public restroom.  For example, some jurisdictions may exempt carryout places or spaces smaller than 1,200 sq. ft.

Related: How to Make a Restroom ADA-Compliant

Accessories in Restrooms

Restaurant restrooms need the proper equipment for sanitation. This includes trash disposal, sinks, soap dispensers, and hand-drying. Depending on local laws, paper towel dispensers or warm-air hand dryers may be acceptable.

If employees use the same restroom as customers, many jurisdictions require handwashing reminder signs. Locking stall doors or privacy locks are generally a must, too. Some jurisdictions require two automatic closing doors between a walkway and a restroom.

Health regulations require separate sinks and hand-washing facilities in kitchens and food preparation areas. These are in addition to bathroom handwashing facilities.

Rules for New vs. Established Restaurants

ADA created rules for new construction as well as rules that apply only when a facility is altered. In general, whenever a restaurant upgrades its facilities, it must update its accessibility as well. This can mean things like a change in some kitchen equipment triggers the construction of a wheelchair ramp. 

It can also mean that other simple upgrades can trigger the construction of a single-occupancy wheelchair accessible toilet.

For established facilities, the provisions of ADA only apply for building built or occupied after 1993. The focus of the rules is to remove barriers for use and enjoyment by persons with a disability.

For example, providing clear pathways of sufficient width to accommodate wheelchairs is removing a barrier to enjoyment. So are ramps and restrooms with grab bars. ADA accommodations include things like table seating for guests in wheelchairs, menus for the blind and other adjustments.

The idea is that people with disabilities may enjoy their dining experience like any other guest.

State and Local Restroom Requirements for Restaurants

people eating at modern cafe

The usual authority for ADA enforcement is the local health department. Local requirements may be more strict than Federal ADA guidelines. In California, for example, establishments larger than 20,000 sq. ft constructed after 2004, one toilet facility is to be provided for men and one minimum for women. 

With ADA in place, those facilities must be accessible. Therefore, two single occupancy toilets with the appropriate hardware and signage for disabled access meet the guidelines. Of course, the facilities must meet the minimum bathroom size.

Access to the restaurant bathrooms cannot be through a kitchen, dishwashing or storage area. Restrooms in those areas need to be for employees only. Customer restrooms cannot be in basements, up a flight of stairs or in back rooms. Proper signs and locking doors are a must.

Keeping Track of Local Laws

In addition to ADA enforcement for the local health department, many building and safety codes include basic ADA enforcement. Local laws may be more stringent. 

There are several nonprofit organizations that can assist you in determining ADA compliance. In addition, local experts in architecture, contracting and installations may be helpful

Your local Chamber of Commerce and National Restaurant Association Representative may offer additional insight.

Why Bother With Accessibility?

The restroom requirements for restaurants are already cumbersome. Why should you bother with meeting all the standards? If your business was in place before 1994, you don't need to worry, right?

Legal standards for accommodations exempt restaurants for some but not all requirements due to impracticality. Those exemptions are few and far between. 

Businesses that opt into meeting requirements open themselves up to new customers. After all, ramps, wider aisles, and roomy restrooms benefit more than just people with disabilities. Ramps assist parents with strollers or simply customers with bad knees. Check out some of Choice Builder Solutions’ most recent projects to see how we have made restrooms accessible to everyone. 

Larger restrooms allow parents to assist children. Taller sinks and grab bars mean that seniors need not stoop to use the sink. Wider aisles are just more comfortable for everyone.

Related: How Much Does It Cost to Remodel a Bathroom?

Plan for Accessibility From the Beginning

Whether it's a start from scratch or a simple upgrade, restroom requirements for restaurants are complicated. You need professional planning to ensure that you meet all the points of the law. Your architect and contractor can get you started.

The local planning department, building and code enforcement, and health department all have some say in ADA enforcement. You may find conflicting advice. Federal law lays out specific design guidelines but state and local laws may be stricter.

Looking for ADA experts? Contact Choice Builder Solutions today to find out how we can ensure your restaurant's bathrooms are accessible to disabled Americans and veterans, empowering all of your customers with our innovative designs. 

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