TNDCLA: If I open a restaurant, do I have to offer a bathroom?

July 5, 2013


I’m planning to open a restaurant.  The premise is that we put laxatives in everything.  So even if you’re eating a ton, odds are you’ll leave us a little skinnier.  Or a LOT skinnier, depending how many orders of “Bagel and Lax,” “No. 2 Brownies” and “Caramel Poop-corn” you order.  Thing is, I am thinking that building a bathroom for this place is going to be a nightmare and bad for business.  I’m wondering – can I just not have one?  This way, I’ll have great customer turnaround, with people literally fleeing the restaurant once the magical ingredient kicks in.  And if I must have one, can it basically be a bucket that I can pay someone to occasionally discard in our neighbor’s trash?  I’m naming our “jerk chicken” dish after him…


Pop a Squat


Hi Pop,

Kudos for your keen business sense.  This could be the diet craze of the century—the real In-n-Out burger.  Unfortunately, there’s very little you can do to skirt the need to have a john. Bathrooms, it turns out, are heavily regulated institutions.  The government takes a keen interest in making sure its citizens can go when the time strikes, so much so that there is now a World Toilet Organization.  And of course this makes sense – we humans spend a lot of time on the commode.  According to some back-of-the-envelope calculation, the average person will probably spend a year and a half of their lives in the Water Closet.  Yes Pop, even us ladies.

Building bathrooms is no piece of lava-cake.  For many of us, the bathroom is the safe haven away from the hustle and bustle of the world, where a man can be king and a woman queen over her porcelain throne.  And that’s not something to take for granted.  Health departments have expended a lot of brain power making sure that bathrooms are easily accessible, sufficiently spacious, and provide adequate privacy (especially from the opposite sex).  Even urinal divider height is carefully conceived of, taking into account just how much eye-contact and splatter-protection you men are really entitled to.

Bathroom regulations can be very specific.  For example, section 403.6 of the Plumbing Code of New York State requires that “public toilet facilities shall be located no more than one story above or below the space required to be provided with public toilet facilities and the path to travel to such facilities shall not exceed a distance of 500 feet (152 m).”  The Health Department understands that when the need strikes, we mere mortals can’t be running through an obstacle course to get relief.  So if you do decide to pursue your laxative gold mine, a few things to keep in mind:

  • Keep your restaurant small to avoid regulation Some cities don’t require you to offer toilets if your business establishment is on the small side.  For example, New York’s rule is that any food establishment with 20 or more seats must provide a toilet for its patrons – but if your laxative cuisine were say a sushi bar with 10 seats, you could save big on plumbing expenses.  Call it Something Fishy. Still, even if you avoid having a restroom for your customers, some states have adopted a version of the Restroom Access Act that requires restaurants that have toilets for their employees to allow customers suffering from an inflammatory bowel disease or other medical condition to use the employees’ facilities.  Yours will be an interesting case since, well, your entire business model is premised on selling people inflamed bowels.
  • Be gender conscious.  Most states require the mandatory segregation of public bathrooms by sex.  For many, this is a relief – women can still claim with a straight face to their significant other that they don’t engage in bowel movements and men can … well I honestly don’t know what you all do in there. Plan wars?  Anyone who has accidentally walked into the wrong stall and felt a piercing wave of awkwardness and embarrassment can tell you how deeply rooted the sanctity of this division is in our daily lives.  This segregation has, however, been a real cause of concern for the transgender and transsexual community, which has campaigned for legislation that would promote multi-occupancy gender-neutral bathrooms in public establishments.  They’re fighting to pee in peace.
  • Make things accessible The federal American Disabilities Act has detailed certain requirements to ensure that bathroom facilities are accessible to handicapped individuals.  Such facilities tend to have wider doors and handrails to accommodate people in wheelchairs.  But let’s not act like you don’t already know this, since I suspect we all instinctually choose the handicap stall when we think no one is around.  May the Lord have mercy on our souls.  As a restaurant owner, it pays to pay attention to detail.  A few years ago a family-owned restaurant was sued in federal court on a claim that its bathroom mirrors were two inches too high in violation of the ADA.  After all, everyone has a right to make sure they don’t have lipstick on their teeth during a first date (not that I expect your restaurant to be the setting of too many of those … )

Good luck, Pop! And remember: a Drive-thru option for your restaurant is a bad, bad idea.


Luci Lawless

This Does Not Constitute Legal Advice does not constitute legal advice. For actual legal advice, please see a lawyer.