Restaurants and Restrooms

The thread on hotel ice reminded me of something I’ve long wondered about.

Years ago the typical grocery store didn’t have public restrooms. Nowadays it seems they all do. But also nowadays nearly every grocery store sells food and beverages with the intent that people will consume them on the premises – and in fact often provide tables and chairs.

I have never seen a retail establishment that sells food that’s ready to consume that doesn’t provide public restrooms. Well, at least those that are in permanent locations, so I’m not counting food trucks and hot dog carts and the like.

Is this a public health requirement? Or is just universally seen as a good idea? Are there parts of the USA where ready-to-consume food is sold and bathrooms are not readily available?

Not every small restaurant has public restrooms. There was a little pizza place in my neighborhood that had open seating for about 12 people, and they didn’t have one. The Yelp reviewers were quite testy about that.

I try to use public restrooms as rarely as possible. I always carry a couple of wet wipes with me if I can’t wash my hands after eating.

At least in my area (Michigan), if you have even the most basic food that you can eat on-premise, you have to have bathrooms. We had a bakery open several years ago that, in addition to selling loaves of bread and such, also sells cookies & pastries, and there’s a small seating area.

They had a heck of a time finding a space to open in, because the law stated they had to have public bathrooms. They wanted to be in a historic building that was a bakery 75 years or so ago, but ultimately couldn’t because they couldn’t figure out a way to put in the bathroom.

These sorts of things are generally covered by state laws and/or local ordinances. I’d be willing to bet that most states require restrooms in restaurants.

Here in California, the law governing restaurant restrooms is in the Health and Safety Code, Section 114276.

Basically, if you have a food establishment where there is “onsite consumption of foods,” you have to provide a restroom for customers. In addition, even if you don’t have onsite consumption, you must have toilet facilities if your building was built after July 1984 and has more than 20,000 square feet of floor space.

Here’s the language from the code:

So, if you’re a small take-out place, with no eat-in facilities, you don’t have to provide a restroom.

I was interested to see the following subsection b (2), because i have seen this subsection violated at literally dozens of California restaurants:

I can think, off the top of my head, of at least a dozen places in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco that i’ve been to, just in the last couple of years, where you walk through the kitchen to get to the bathroom.

It’s pretty much the same in the UK, although restaurants in buildings like malls, can rely on the mall facilities. There are often exclusions to all kinds of regulations for businesses in historic buildings - I would not be surprised at all though, if a new business in an old building, still had to comply, even though the cafe next door, established 50 years ago, did not.

The employees of the establishment are going to be there all day and are going to need a restroom at some point. If you are going to have one there anyway, you might as well incur the marginal cost of making it a public one.

Food trucks and carts are still covered by public health regulations, though different rules apply. In my city (Huntsville AL), food trucks are required to provide restrooms for employees (but apparently not customers). This generally means making arrangements with business near where they operate, or operating at designated food truck events & parks which are required to have public restrooms.

I stopped at a small Chinese place in Houston once. They were mainly set up for take-outs but they did have some tables. I don’t know if it was a legal requirement but they had what I guess qualified as a public restroom - they let customers use the employees’ restroom. You literally walked through the kitchen where they were preparing food to get to the restroom. You’d think having customers walking through the food preparation areas would be a health code violation all by itself.

And yet, here in California, you apparently don’t have to have restroom facilities that either A) work, or B) allow customers.

At least not in the rather “uncouth” neighborhood I live in. Seems there is a big concern that if you have open, functioning restrooms then the homeless will use them.

I’m still not sure how all these eateries get around California law, but they do–by a vast majority.

I wonder if older places are grandfathered in? There are a good number of New Orleans bar-&-grills (and maybe some straight-up restaurants) that are the same way. If memory serves, I’ve only seen these cut-through-the-kitchen bathrooms in older buildings in older parts of town (e.g. the French Quarter).

Article about the requirements in NY , where many places with seating for fewer than 20 don’t provide public restrooms and different spaces are subject to different rules. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/21/nyregion/rule-shift-cuts-restroom-requirements-at-new-york-restaurants.html?_r=0 . It also explains why some places with restroom access through the kitchen get away with it- they aren’t required to provide restrooms at all.

Although I have to ask those who have never seen any place with seating but no public restrooms if they have ever seen a place with literally two tables for four. Because I’ve seen plenty - they are in places that mostly do take out business and although they may allow customers to use the employee restroom, they never have officially public restrooms.

Local law prevails here. It’s common practice for restaurants to allow restroom access only to customers and employees, not anyone who walks in wanting to use the restroom. How well that works as a policy depends on the type of people who walk in only wanting to use the restroom.

Yup, in the Seattle area it’s almost impossible to find restaurants that do allow non-customers to use their bathrooms and that don’t have a sign to that effect posted up. For that matter, I know a number of restaurants that don’t have their own restrooms but share them with adjoining businesses.

I take it for granted that most businesses in Seattle don’t have restrooms. For restaurants it’s usually only the larger ones that have them.