When you are designing restaurants, bars, bakeries and other food service businesses the number of occupants is a fairly important factor. Occupant loading is not determined by the actual number of people, but rather by the number of square feet in your space. You’ll have 1 occupant for each 200 sf of kitchen, 15 sf of seating space, 5 sf of standing space, 100 sf of business areas or 300 sf storage areas. You add all the occupants together, including fractions and get to a total load.
What I tell owners and operators is that there are several trigger points where the number of occupants makes a big difference.
The first point where occupant load makes a difference is for very small establishments, we see it mostly in bakeries. When you have more than 15 occupants you are required to have two separate bathrooms, one for men and one for women. For a small establishment, that’s a big cost.
The next point is when you go over 49 occupants. Beyond 49, you are required to have two exits that are separated from each other. The doors must swing out and there has to be a clear path to both exits that can’t go through storage or kitchen spaces. Creating the second exit is often easy, but it can be a cost for some projects.
The next point of cost is at 100 occupants. When you hit 100 occupants you must have an automatic sprinkler system. This would also be the case at 5,000 sf or when you are not on the ground floor.
Your restrooms will have to expand when you get to 80 occupants for a bar or 150 for a restaurant. That’s when you’ll need a second toilet in each restroom. Interestingly you don’t have to have a second lav until you get to 150 in a bar and 400 in a restaurant, though typically you’ll see this with lower loading. This pattern continues each time you add more occupants.
The next occupant load trigger doesn’t happen until 500, then you need a third exit, a second drinking fountain and more plumbing fixtures. Of course if you’re designing a facility for 500 plus, these are a small additional cost in the cost of the total project.