A Restaurant Owner’s Guide to ADA Compliance

There are more than 1 million restaurant locations in the United States, which employ more than 15 million people.

Restaurant owners have countless responsibilities. They have to have enough people dining to turn a profit, hire and fire staff, ensure clients are happy and maintain the operations of the business.

One thing that restaurant owners can overlook is the chaos is ADA compliance. Failure to comply can have disastrous consequences for the business.

Keep reading to learn what the ADA is, how to comply, and make your services accessible to everyone.

What Is the ADA?

The ADA is the American with Disabilities Act. The law dates back to 1990, and it changed the way people with disabilities in this country are treated.

There are five parts of the ADA, and a few of them directly impact how you run your restaurant. For example, Title I of the law says that people with disabilities have the same job opportunities.

Title III of the ADA says that public spaces have to have the same level of access for everyone. That includes businesses and commercial buildings. If your restaurant doesn’t provide the same access to your services, you could be discriminating against people with disabilities.

The standards were updated in 2010.

Fines and Penalties for Noncompliance

If your restaurant is found to be in violation of the ADA the penalties can be severe. Businesses can be fined up to $75,000 for the first violation. If a business continues to violate the law, fines can grow to $150,000.

On top of that, you can bet that your situation will get press coverage. That will hurt your reputation in the community and be difficult to bounce back from.

Who’s Responsible for ADA Compliance?

There are different situations that impact who is ultimately responsible for ADA compliance. For restaurant owners who own the building outright, the restaurant owner is responsible for compliance.

However, there are many times when a restaurant leases space from a building owner. It isn’t always clear to know who is responsible for compliance. The property lease may stipulate who is responsible for any changes to bring the building into compliance.

What you’ll usually find is that the landlord is responsible for the exterior of the building, including walkways and entrances. The restaurant owner is responsible for everything within the space they are renting.

If there are structural updates that need to be made within the rented space, then those costs may be shared by the building owner and the restaurant owner.

Areas of Compliance for Restaurants

There are four main areas of compliance for commercial spaces. They are the entrance and walkway to the building, ADA compliant restrooms, access to services, and accessible items like water fountains.

The main priority for you is to provide equal access to services.


You need to have at least 36 inches of space between fixed seating. Tables have to be between 28 – 34 inches high. You also have to have all eating areas accessible to people with disabilities. This used to be 5% but was updated in 2010.


ADA signage must be compliant in certain circumstances. For example, restroom signs and emergency exit signs need to meet certain standards. They should have Grade II Braille, use pictograms, and use a specific letter type.


Believe it or not, your menu doesn’t have to be ADA compliant because menus change frequently.

However, if a blind person asks for a menu and you don’t provide one, it could pose a problem. You’ll need to think ahead and have a plan to handle it.


The ADA specifies how high door handles, signage, sinks, toilet paper rolls, and toilets have to be. The regulations also say that there should be between 16-18 inches of space from the center of the toilet on either side.

Staff Training

You want your guests to have the best experience possible. You don’t want to make others feel excluded, which is why you should hold regular staff training. Your staff will be well-equipped to handle any situation that comes up and make all of your guests feel at home.


In 2019, more than 2200 lawsuits were filed because websites were not fully accessible by those with disabilities. These lawsuits argue that websites are public spaces and they need to comply with the ADA.

The law isn’t clear since the ADA doesn’t specifically address websites. Judgments in these cases have conflicted at times. The federal government hasn’t provided guidelines to help small businesses comply.

The bottom line is that if you do nothing to have an ADA compliance website, you risk a lawsuit. You may not want to absorb the costs of ADA compliance, especially when it’s not clear what the law says.

The best thing you can do is to follow the standard that website developers use, called the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). There are a growing number of plugins and programs that you can install on your site to be ADA compliant.

Conduct ADA Audits

Are you not sure where you should begin? Start with an ADA audit and create an ADA compliance checklist for your building. The checklist should cover every aspect of your facility, from parking accessibility to the entire dining experience.

Don’t Overlook ADA Compliance

You have so many things to do in your restaurant, you may completely forget about ADA compliance until you’re hit with a lawsuit or a fine.

You simply can’t afford to forget to be ADA compliant. Your first job is to know what your responsibilities are and ensure that everything within your restaurant is ADA compliant. You should conduct ADA audits and hold regular staff training to ensure your business is compliant.

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