A Guide to ADA Compliance In Your Restaurant

Jessica Elliott

Jessica couples her 24 years of restaurant and hospitality industry experience with meticulous research to deliver insight into technology, operations, and marketing topics. Her optimized copy helps companies engage their audience while strengthening their communication with clients, employees, and management.

ADA compliance in your restaurant protects your business from lawsuits while ensuring that every person who arrives at your doors has access. With the Center for Disease Control reporting that “one in four adults in the United States has some disability,” it’s crucial to update your facilities to meet the needs of guests while complying with ADA hiring guidelines. 

Woman sitting in a wheelchair and doing some work on a laptop at an ADA compliant cafe

The American with Disabilities Act protects people from discrimination while providing them with the same opportunities as anyone else. Under Title III of the ADA it states, “no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.” 

Restaurant owners often worry about the cost of complying with ADA regulations. However, the ADA provides leeway for restaurants to do the best they can with what they have. You can get your restaurant off on the best foot in your community by ensuring ADA compliance for both your facility and employees. 

ADA compliance in and around your restaurant building

Restaurateurs reference the US Department of Justice website for precise details on the construction of bathrooms, table placement, and so forth. Before you focus on the numbers, take a walk through your restaurant, starting with your parking and entrance. Then review local guidelines and get help from a knowledgable contractor and supplier. 

Route of travel and parking.

For those with disabilities to spend money at your restaurant, they need accessible parking spaces and entrances. ADA guidelines require:

  • One accessible parking space per one to 25 spots.
  • Three accessible parking spots if you have 51-75 spaces.
  • Four accessible spaces for lots with 76-100 parking spots.

At least one spot out of every eight needs to be van-accessible with an eight-foot-wide parking spot and an eight-foot-wide access space. For a car, you’ll need a five-foot access space. 

Once guests leave their vehicle, then individuals require a smooth path that is at least 36-inches wide. Ramps should meet the slope standards which state that the ramp must not be greater than a 1:12 ratio. You must include at least one access path, including a door with at least a 32-inch opening with handles that are 48-inches high or lower. 

Seats, tables, and counters.

ADA regulations require wheelchair accessible tables. Even if your seating attaches to the wall or floor, you should ensure that at least 5% of your seating is accessible. You can do this by keeping the height of the tables between 28 and 34 inches with removable chairs. 

To fit wheelchairs and other medical devices, legroom under tables should provide for 27-inches of height, 30-inches of width, and 19-inches of depth. Plus, keep your counter and payment areas accessible by either keeping them at 36-inches tall or less or have a lowered space for assisting customers. 


Restroom accessibility can be a considerable expense and is the source of many complaints, both from guests and restaurant owners. Your bathrooms should be accessible to guests with varying requirements. This means that you need at least one fully accessible and appropriately labeled restroom in your restaurant.

  • 32-inch wide entrance doorway with handles located 48-inches or less. 
  • A 36-inch path to toilet and sink areas. 
  • Stalls need a five-foot by five-foot area for wheelchair accessibility. 
  • Accessible restrooms require grab bars placed behind and next to the toilet. 
  • The toilet seat should be 17-19-inches high. 
  • Restroom stall handles should be a lever or loop style for easy use.

Along with access, restaurant owners should provide emergency alerts for those with various impairments. Many locations face regulations that state that doors must have exit and emergency signs with visual and audio warnings. Get further insight by using this checklist for readily achievable barrier removal by the ADA. 

Guest and website services.

From online event ticket sales to service animals, it’s essential to do more than review how your restaurant physically functions. ADA compliance requires business owners to provide a similar experience for all customers regardless of their needs. 

ADA compliance and restaurant employees

When it comes to hiring and retaining employees, the key is to treat everyone the same. It’s also essential to discuss compliance with management or human resources so that everyone is on the same page.

Hiring process

The bottom line is that it’s illegal to ask any prospects about their disability status. Once you’ve offered applicants a job, then you may ask questions that are the same regardless of condition. For example, you can inquire if they need any reasonable accommodations to perform their job duties, but you must ask everyone you hire this question. 

Current staff

Although the ADA doesn’t require restaurateurs to undergo undue hardship in accommodating staff with disabilities, it does encourage the basics. For example, Modern Restaurant Management suggests making accommodations for “allowing more frequent breaks for a diabetic employee to eat, drink, or take medication to maintain blood sugar levels.” Whereas you’re not expected to remodel your kitchen if a cook requires a wheelchair. 

Along with reasonable accommodations, you should also consider a job transfer to a position where their skills and abilities work together to perform the job. The Job Accommodation Network provides a guide to reasonable accommodation for business owners

ADA compliance in your restaurant might seem challenging at first. However, creating a safe and inclusive environment for your staff and guests provides countless benefits during the lifetime of your business.

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