How to Make a Restaurant ADA Accessible

How to Make a Restaurant ADA Accessible

| May 20, 2021

Almost one-fifth of the U.S. population has some form of disability, and 34.2 million people have a functional limitation. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 rightfully states that all Americans deserve equal access to opportunities, including dining at a restaurant. Here, you’ll learn what it means for your restaurant to be ADA accessible, as well as some ways you can ensure you’re following ADA standards.

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What Does ADA Accessible Mean?

“Accessible” means a site, building or facility that complies with the 2021 ADA Standards for Accessible Design under the ADA Act of 1990. The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design revised the earlier 1991 standards, which established the fundamentals of accessibility at restaurants and other facilities.

ADA accessibility applies to private employers with 15 or more employees, public businesses and all government agencies. All new buildings must comply with the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Complete room alternations must also follow these standards, with total compliance costs up to 20% of the total cost of alterations.

Your restaurant is a public business, and is therefore subject to ADA accessibility standards. If you’re planning on building a new restaurant, your entire building must be ADA accessible. Or, if you’re upgrading a room in a historic building, the whole room must meet ADA standards. Continue reading to learn more about these standards.

How to Make Your Restaurant ADA Accessible

The ADA guidelines for restaurants are as follows.


Designate a 96″ wide accessible parking spot at the shortest possible route to your restaurant’s entrance, which is usually adjacent to your front door. If you have multiple entryways, design the parking space or spaces in front of your most accessible entrance. There should be at least one accessible parking spot, potentially more — one accessible parking space for every eight spaces. Be sure to identify all accessible parking with the appropriate signage.

Building Entrance

At least half of your entrances need to be accessible, with at least one accessible route from your restaurant’s arrival point. Arrival points include parking spaces, passenger loading zones, public sidewalks and so on. Identify all accessible entrances using the correct signage.


When open, your entrance doors must have a clearing of 36″, suitable for wheelchair access. Those with disabilities should easily be able to enter the threshold with a slope no steeper than one foot for every two horizontal feet and a height at no greater than 1/2″, or 3/4″ for existing and altered thresholds.

Door handles should be accessible, too. The preferred door handles are loop or level styles, which don’t require people to turn or squeeze the handle to open the door. The door itself should have a maximum opening and closing force of five pounds.

Seats, Tables and Counters

The ADA requirements for seating, tables and counters are as follows.

  • Seating: Seating should be easily adaptable to your restaurant’s needs, including accommodating space for those with wheelchairs. Ensure you can quickly remove or rearrange seating to make space for wheelchair users.
  • Tables: ADA table requirements state thatat least 5% of fixed tables, with a minimum of one, should be ADA accessible and evenly distributed throughout the restaurant. Mark the ADA-accessible restaurant table with the proper signage.
  • Counters: Counters longer than 60″ and exceeding 34″ high, like a bar counter, should have a section that’s 28″ to 34″ high.


Design at least one accessible restroom in your restaurant layout. Accessible bathrooms have the following qualities:

  • An accessible route to and from the restroom.
  • An accessible, outward-swinging door.
  • A sink height with a rim no higher than 34″.
  • A lever-operated, push-type, touch-type or electronic faucet.
  • Mounted lavatories with a rim no higher than 34″.
  • A clear floor space of 60″ x 56″.
  • Mounted mirror with a bottom edge no higher than 40″.
  • A minimum of five feet between the lavatory and sink.


ADA guidelines don’t have extensive requirements for menus the way they do for your physical layout. The ADA doesn’t require you to provide a menu in Braille if an employee can read it out loud to your guest. However, it’s considerate to offer a legible menu for people with vision impairments or other disabilities. It’s also worth mentioning that if your restaurant cannot remove physical barriers in one part of your restaurant, you must have the same menu in an ADA-accessible area.

Service Animals

Service animals have specific training to help humans with disabilities. The law requires restaurants to welcome service animals and make accommodations to do so. Refusal to serve a person with a service animal subjects you to penalties. However, you aren’t responsible for watching the animal if they separate from their human charge.

Other Considerations

Other relevant ADA-accessible considerations for your business may include the following.

  • Foodservice lines: Lines should be at least 36″ wide, preferably 42″. Also, tray slides should be no higher than 34″, so people with wheelchairs have adequate access to them.
  • Self-service shelves: Self-service shelves include areas with tableware, condiments and beverages. The maximum height for self-service shelves is 54″.

ADA Compliance for Employees

The ADA protects employees and patrons alike. So, to meet ADA accessibility guidelines, your business must accommodate employees with disabilities in ways like these.

Equal Opportunity in All Employment Practices

The ADA and Equal Employment Opportunity Act ensure all current and potential employees have equal opportunities at work or when applying for jobs. These laws make it illegal for employers to discriminate based on disabilities, race, age, sex, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy or national origin. 

During your hiring process, it’s against the law to ask applicants if they have a disability. One exception is asking every applicant whether you’ll need to make reasonable accommodations for a disability. If you choose to do so, you must outline this regulation in your employee handbook.

In daily operations, your business should implement and practice an effective EEO policy. Ethics start at the top of the chain, so if you’re a business owner, ensure you embody your EEO policy to promote an inclusive culture. Start by performing a self-analysis and identify any current employment practices that may be discriminating against specific groups. Then, instate a robust anti-harassment policy and enforce it via regular staff sensitivity training.

Accommodations for Employees With Disabilities

If your employee discloses that they have a disability and requests a reasonable accommodation, your restaurant will have to make changes so they can do their job. A “reasonable” accommodation — sometimes referred to as a “productivity enhancer” — is a modification that doesn’t cost a considerable amount, significantly disrupt operations or drastically change how you do business.

Examples of changes you may have to make include:

  • Ramps
  • Accessible restrooms
  • Ergonomic workstations
  • Part-time or modified schedules
  • Modifying equipment
  • Providing interpreters
  • Finding a more suitable position

If you make changes for an employee with disabilities, you don’t have to provide the same considerations to other employees without disabilities. For example, if your host has a disability that makes it hard to stand up, allowing them to sit between guests may be a suitable accommodation. However, you don’t have to provide a stool to everyone who works at the host stand.

An ADA Accessibility Checklist for Restaurants

The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design are comprehensive. To make things simpler, use the following checklist as a starting point to make your restaurant ADA accessible.

  • Accessible parking spaces that are wide enough for vans: According to the ADA, van-accessible parking spaces should be 96″ wide so vans can easily fit with adequate space for individuals with wheelchairs to get out.
  • Building entrances that are flush to the ground or have accessible ramps: Ideally, entrance doors should have no greater than a 1/2″ threshold or slope greater than 1:2 feet. If the slope is steeper than 1:2 feet, you’ll need to build a 36″ wide ramp with level landings.
  • Door and walkways at least 36″ wide: Entrance doors should also be 36″ wide to accommodate wheelchair users.
  • Automatic door options: Preferably, your restaurant should have automatic doors. However, that’s not always possible. It’s acceptable to design accessible doors with loop or level handles and a maximum opening and closing force of five pounds.
  • Wheelchair-accessible tables: The ADA states that at least 5% of tables should be accessible with a minimum of one. Accessible tables are ones you can quickly modify to accommodate someone with a wheelchair, though it’s even better to have tables dedicated to serving wheelchair users.
  • Braille, photo-only or colorblind-friendly menus: Consider creating different menu types to accommodate people of all abilities. You don’t have to offer a Braille menu if one of your employees can read the menu aloud, but it’s an inclusive practice. Think about providing photo-only or colorblind-friendly menu styles for people with vision or cognitive impairments.
  • Regular staff sensitivity training: Inclusivity starts from the top and filters down. Express the importance of inclusivity to your staff by hosting monthly sensitivity training, educating staff on various disabilities and what they can do to make reasonable accommodations.

10 Reasons Your Restaurant Should Be ADA Accessible

Some reasons your restaurant should adhere to ADA guidelines are as follows.

1. Avoid Lawsuits

The U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, upholds the ADA standards for accessibility. They will monitor your business to ensure you’re complying with ADA guidelines. Also, if someone visits your restaurant and notices you aren’t following ADA regulations, they can file against you. 

If the U.S. Department of Justice or court official finds that you’re not following ADA requirements, you may face penalties up to $100,000. Luckily, if you follow the outlined standards, you won’t need to worry about these penalties — instead, you’ll get rewarded monetarily.

2. Claim Tax Breaks

The government wants you to meet ADA standards, and they’ll support you with tax breaks. The IRS offers a Disabled Access Credit for small businesses that helps cover the cost of meeting ADA standards. All you have to do is track your total amount spent, then report it on IRS form 8826. The money you get back makes the investment more affordable for many small businesses.

3. The Disability Community Is Large

As mentioned, almost one-fifth of the U.S. population has a disability, with over 34 million having a functional limitation. What’s more, 20.3 million families in the U.S. have at least one family member with a disability. Without ADA-accessible accommodations, you’re neglecting this large population and missing out on their business. 

4. Word-of-Mouth Advertising

The disability community is tight-knit, mainly because they share similar backgrounds and sympathize with each other’s struggles. If someone in the disability community has a positive experience with your restaurant, they’re more likely to praise your business and recommend it to friends and family. Ideally, they’ll also write an online review using a platform like Yelp.

5. Welcomes New Customers

People often discriminate against those with disabilities because they wrongly think these people lack spending power. Differently abled people travel, shop and eat out with family and friends just like people without disabilities. The disability community has $175 billion in discretionary spending — two times more than teens, who many businesses often target.

Upgrading your business to be ADA accessible welcomes these customers, which can boost your revenue.

6. Improved Patron Experience

Millions of people face boundaries that make it hard to function. Dining at a restaurant shouldn’t be one of them. Being ADA accessible enriches the lives of your customers and employees. It takes away any obstacles from getting out of the vehicle, entering the building and navigating within your establishment. Plus, customers with positive experiences spend 140% more at a business than those with negative experiences.

7. Community Benefits

Being ADA accessible gives your patrons the freedom to choose what they want to do. In return, people will view your community as more inclusive, attracting people with disabilities. And, by creating a thriving, welcoming community, you’re inspiring other decision-makers to take progressive steps, too.

8. Happier Employees

Your business culture plays a central role in your employees’ happiness. When workers feel like a part of a robust and inclusive culture, they’re more likely to feel satisfied with their jobs. Designing an ADA-accessible restaurant teaches employees what it means to be inclusive and makes employees with disabilities feel more welcomed and accepted.

9. Higher Employee Retention

When employees are happy, they’re more likely to stay connected with your business. When employees consistently value their position, they’re more likely to maintain a positive perception of their role and feel comfortable staying. Higher employee retention benefits hiring, too, as you can use it as a competitive advantage to attract interviewees.

10. It’s the Right Thing to Do

The most significant reason to make your restaurant ADA accessible is that it’s the right thing to do. In today’s world, most people frown upon discriminatory practices. Ignoring ADA standards isolates a community that already faces daily struggles. If your business isn’t currently ADA accessible, see this as your sign to make the necessary changes to welcome more people in your community.

Browse ADA-Accessible Outdoor Furnishings and Site Amenities at Wabash Valley Furnishings

Wabash Valley Furnishings values ADA accessibility. We offer a wide range of accessible outdoor furnishings and site amenities, including durable picnic tables and dining sets. Accessible furniture is an investment that gives back — it opens your restaurant’s doors to a broader audience and allows you to get some of your investment paid for by the IRS.

Start upgrading your restaurant by browsing our products online. When you’re ready, contact us online, and one of our representatives will gladly help build you a quote. We look forward to helping you bring inclusivity into your community.