Make Your Restaurant Accessible

Restaurants are all about making customers feel welcome and comfortable. This can be a simple case of providing tables and chairs, but restaurants need to be accessible for all customers – including those who are physically challenged. It is important to provide a hospitable environment for each and every customer that wants to eat at your restaurant. It is unacceptable to ever turn a customer away because you cannot accommodate their special needs. And it is equally unacceptable to cause any customer to feel uncomfortable when they enter your establishment. Customers of all abilities must be treated equally. If they feel welcome in your restaurant, they will become regular customers. More accessibility means more customers.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires restaurants to be readily accessible to people with physical challenges unless it is “structurally impractical” to do so. According to the Act, businesses must do everything possible to allow people with disabilities to enjoy the same access to services and products as other customers.  This means that you need to design a dining room layout that complies with ADA regulations. One of the most important ADA requirements is the removal of barriers. The ADA provides a detailed list of barriers and specific requirements for fixing the problem of inaccessibility.

Removal of barriers – A barrier can take the form of steps, no accessible parking spaces, tight spaces, a narrow building entrance, narrow doors, no elevator for businesses on upper levels of a building, no ramps where necessary, and loop and lever handles instead of knob and panel handles. But when it comes to the restaurant layout and furniture there are steps you can take immediately to make your establishment more accessible.

All Areas of a Restaurant Must Be Accessible To All Customers and Staff

  • Parking
  • Entrances/doorways
  • Service counters
  • Restrooms
  • Moving through the restaurant
  • Seating and tables

Here are some of the highlights of ADA requirements: 

Accessible Restaurant Layout

  • Space for customers in wheelchairs to comfortably turn around. This should be a T-shape or a 5-foot circle.
  • Aisles between tables ( the back of restaurant chairs) must be at least 36 inches wide so that physically challenged customers and in wheelchairs can move safely and comfortably.
  • To make the restaurant accessible to visually impaired customers, any removable obstacles should be removed from walkways. Immovable obstacles in walkways (such as columns, etc.) must be cane-detectable and no more than 27 inches off the floor or 4 inches from the wall.

Accessible, Restaurant Chairs, Tables, and other Restaurant Furniture

  •  If your restaurant has fixed seating attached permanently to the floor or wall, there must be a 36-inch aisle between the fixed seats. Booth seating also needs to comply with this ACA requirement. If you have movable and fixed tables in your restaurant, you can adjust the movable tables to meet the 36-inch distance from the fixed furniture.
  • 5% of restaurant tables (or one table if you have less than twenty restaurant tables) must be ADA-compliant tables.
  • Knee room under tables and counters should measure a minimum of 30 inches wide to accommodate the width of a wheelchair. For a customer in a wheelchair to comfortably join a table they require tables to be at least 27 inches high, and have a depth of at least 19 inches.
  • For customers in wheelchairs to comfortably join a table or counter, a floor area of 30 inches by 40 inches needs to be left clear for them to approach the table or counter.
  • An accessible table or counter should be 28-34 inches high to accommodate customers in wheelchairs.
  • Space must be left for customers in wheelchairs to join their companions at the restaurant tables. You have two options. Either leave the space open or make it possible to move chairs at ADA-compliant tables when a customer in a wheelchair arrives.

ACA guidelines are not simply recommendations, they are required by law. ADA violations are taken seriously and can result in fines up to $75,000. For more details about the ADA requirements for restaurants and for guidance on how to make your restaurant accessible to all customers, visit the ADA website.

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