The process of opening a restaurant involves many moving parts, and one of the largest parts is designing the physical layout of your business. This process can be highly creative and a way to showcase what your restaurant is all about. However, just as important as the aesthetic is the accessibility of your restaurant.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that protects people with disabilities against discrimination. There are 61 million adults with disabilities in the U.S., and part of the ADA requires businesses to be accessible for people with disabilities.
In this article, we’ll cover some things you need to know about ADA compliance as a restaurant owner. However, please note: We’re not lawyers, so providing legal advice is not our specialty. We’re just covering helpful steps and resources you can tap into when setting up your restaurant for ADA compliance.
Defining ADA Compliance
Being ADA compliant essentially means that anyone — regardless of ability — should be able to be a patron of your business without any barriers. This includes things like physical barriers as well as electronic and technological barriers. For example, include a ramp to your restaurant’s front door if there are steps, or include an audio option if your restaurant has self-service technology like a self-serve kiosk. ADA compliance also goes beyond patrons of your restaurant and includes accessibility requirements in your hiring practices, as well as accessibility for staff members.
Infrastructure ADA Compliance Regulations: A Quick Overview
When most people think about ADA regulations, their mind automatically goes to infrastructure. Though all ADA requirements are vital for an inclusive world, infrastructure is one of the first things you should think about when constructing your restaurant. This includes an ADA-compliant parking lot, entrances and exits, doors, internal layout, and even bathrooms. Let's explore each of these elements further.
According to the ADA government website, there are a minimum number of accessible parking spaces that any business needs to have. For example, if your restaurant parking lot has 75 parking spots, at least three must be handicapped-vehicle accessible, and one must be van accessible.
In addition to the number of accessible parking spaces required, the location of the spaces matters, too. According to ADA.gov, “spaces must be located on the shortest accessible route of travel to an accessible facility entrance.” The route must not include curbs or stairs, has to be at least 3 feet wide, and must include a “firm, stable, slip-resistant surface.” Lastly, the ADA says that there can’t be a slope on this access route greater than 1:12 in any direction.
To read more details and determine how many accessible parking spaces your business needs, consult ADA.gov.
Building Entrances and Exits
Next, you’ll need to think about the entrances and exits of your restaurant. Even having one step from ground level to your door can prevent someone who uses a wheelchair, walker, crutches, or a cane from gaining access. If your restaurant has stairs by the entrance and exit, at least one of those needs to include an accessible entrance, like a ramp or an electronic lift, according to ADA.gov. The same slope rule of no greater than 1:12 applies here, too. Additionally, the ADA requires businesses to have handrails if a slope is more than 1:20 and the vertical rise is more than 6 inches.
If you have multiple entrances and exits to your restaurant, but only one is accessible, you’ll also need a sign at each door that says where the accessible entrance is.
You can read more about ADA entrance and exit requirements on this ADA government webpage.
The doors you install in your restaurant are also vital to ensuring your business is ADA compliant. There are various requirements for specific types of doors, like sliding doors versus revolving doors. Generally speaking, according to the ADA, all doors need to have a clearance width of at least 32 inches. This width is measured between the face of the door and the stop of the door frame when the door is open 90 degrees.
You can see a helpful illustration of this and read more on ADA-compliant doors on ADAT.org, as well as tips on door handles and ensuring you have enough space around doors.
When planning the layout and general flow of your restaurant, you’ll need to keep in mind that anyone should be able to get around your restaurant with ease regardless of if they’re walking, using a wheelchair, walker, or crutches. Similar to doors, the ADA requires that hallways be at least 36 inches wide, and the halls must have clearance for turns.
Another measurement to keep in mind is the height of ceilings and doorways. The ADA requires a clearance of at least 80 inches of headroom to prevent blind individuals from hitting their heads.
Lastly, it’s vital to consider your floor materials and doorways when creating your restaurant layout. The ADA requires floors to have a non-slip finish, and if you’re using carpet, there are limits to the maximum pill thickness.
Dining Rooms (Seats, Tables, and Counters)
You’ll need to ensure you have accessible tables, chairs, and counters in the dining room. If your restaurant tables are attached to the floor or wall, 5% of them must be accessible — or at least one table if you have less than 20 tables. According to ADA.gov, this requirement also applies to permanent tables outside and on patios.
When it comes to the height of tables, the ADA requires:
A maximum height of 34 inches and a minimum height of 28 inches
Knee clearance of at least 27 inches from the floor to the bottom of the table surface
A clear floor area of 30 by 48 inches around each seating area
Knee clearance at least 19 inches under the table
Oak Street Manufacturing provides helpful diagrams on their website, which you can view here.
Another area that will require a well-thought-out plan is your restaurant’s restrooms. The ADA made many amendments to the law in its 2010 update, including several restroom requirements. You can find full details in the 2010 ADA Standards document, but here are some of the basics:
Toilet seats must be accessible at heights between 17 and 19 inches.
The midpoint of a toilet in a stall must be between 16 and 18 inches from the side wall.
Wheelchair-friendly stalls must have a 60-inch circle around them, and the stall door cannot swing into this area.
Flush valves on toilets must be easy to use. They should not require a person to twist their wrist, make a closed fist, or pinch.
Sinks can’t be taller than 34 inches from the floor, and there must also be knee clearance of 27 inches tall, 30 inches wide, and 11 to 25 inches deep.
Restaurant Staff ADA Compliance Regulations: A Quick Overview
Now, let’s look at some ADA compliance regulations for restaurant staff.
Equal Opportunity During the Hiring Process
The ADA “makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a qualified applicant or employee with a disability,” according to EEOC.gov. “The ADA applies to private employers with 15 or more employees and to state and local government employers.” You must also provide reasonable accommodations for your restaurant’s application process.
Accommodating Staff Members With Disabilities
Simply put, any staff member with a disability must have equal access to the same benefits and privileges as those without a disability. As a business owner, you must also provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities.
Tips To Establish an ADA-Compliant Restaurant
Many things go into ensuring your restaurant is ADA compliant, and in addition to everything we’ve covered above, here are some other accessibility guidelines to help you establish compliance in your small business:
Consider how you present your restaurant’s offerings. Do you have paper menus? Do you have select menus in braille and others with large print? If you have a self-service kiosk or digital signage, are they ADA-compliant and accessible for visually impaired or blind people?
Create an ADA-compliant policy around service animals. Be sure to incorporate this into your staff training and onboarding process.
Brush up on your specific state laws. Sometimes, individual states have amendments to ADA rules.
Connect with a legal expert and/or a consultant. Choose someone familiar with ADA requirements before you start building out your restaurant.
Beyond fostering an inclusive environment that anyone can enjoy, being an ADA-compliant restaurant also has its financial benefits. Your restaurant may be eligible for tax breaks for installing assistive technology. To learn more about this, talk to a tax advisor.
Optimize Your Restaurant With INFI
After you get all the basics down, improving your restaurant's accessibility will most likely be an ongoing project. As technology advances, there will likely be even more ways to optimize your restaurant to make it inclusive for all patrons. Right now, you can optimize your restaurant by installing an INFI self-service kiosk with ADA-compliant features. Learn more about INFI and demo our kiosk here.