One common (and often repeated) misconception is that if you serve food and drink on your premises, you need to provide toilet facilities. But is there any truth in it? Let’s take a look at the much-discussed question of ‘Do cafes have to have toilets?’
So, do Cafés need to provide toilet facilities?
Yes, and no.
We all know how much it sucks to be caught short, especially when you find yourself on a busy high street that seemingly should have a surplus of toilet facilities. The trouble with this is that when the premises are small and offer minimal seating (or none at all) there is no current legal obligation for them to provide washroom facilities.
However, establishments serving food and drinks are encouraged to offer restroom facilities for their patrons as a matter of good customer service. Some larger or chain coffee shops tend to provide toilet facilities, but smaller or independent ones might not have them due to space limitations or other reasons. Overall, in most cases, it is more of a courtesy and convenience rather than a legal obligation.
What businesses do have to provide toilet facilities?
Good question, because the rule above is not a catch-all. And how exactly is a small business or premises defined?
Premises that offer seating with over ten spaces must provide a washroom
If your Café is primarily a takeaway service or is especially small (coffee shop in a phone booth, we are looking at you!) then you don’t need to worry about providing facilities. In fact, if you have fewer than 10 seats to offer -which is sometimes offered for people waiting on orders, rather than to sit and consume their purchases- then you don’t have to worry either. Unless you are open late…
Businesses open past 11 pm
Any business that is operating into the night has a legal obligation to provide washrooms to its customers and clients, due mainly to the lack of open public convenience at this hour. Most locations open at this time also serve alcohol, which leads us on to the next rule…
If you have an alcohol licence, you must provide toilet facilities.
If you serve alcohol in the UK, you must provide adequate and suitable toilet facilities for your customers. The number and type of toilets required depend on factors such as premises size, customer volume, and licensing conditions.
What about staff toilets?
According to the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations of 1992, it is against the law to not provide your staff with toilet facilities.
All employers need to supply adequate and suitable sanitary facilities for their employees and they must be kept clean and in good working order. This includes toilets, hand basins, and somewhere to dry hands. The number of toilets required depends on the number of employees and the gender breakdown of the workforce – especially following the recent rule changes for unisex or gender-neutral toilets.
Failure to comply with these regulations can result in fines or legal action. Providing adequate toilet facilities is not only a legal requirement but also important for the health, safety, and well-being of employees.
You also need to make sure that you have correct access to toilets for disabled staff members. Providing disabled toilets not only fulfils legal requirements (It’s a legal obligation under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled employees are not disadvantaged in any way) but also shows consideration and support for disabled employees, which can boost their morale and make them feel valued and comfortable at work.
There is no legal requirement for you to provide access to the staff toilets to your customers.
Exceptions to Cafés having to provide toilet facilities
As with most situations that call for planning permission and licences, your local council and planning office can give you advice on what is needed for your business and particular area. There are instances where some councils have stricter rules than others, to maintain the unique characteristics of their district, but it can also work the other way: If you have unique reasons why you cannot comply with certain regulations, they can offer contingency plans and workarounds to make sure that everyone is happy.
Tips on providing a toilet if you have a tiny Café
Even if you only have space for a single unisex toilet, there is no reason to not make it the very best it can be.
- Make use of innovative space-saving solutions, such as toilets made especially for small spaces which feature a wash basin on top of the cistern. Plus, they are ecological too – as the wastewater from the tap is then used in the toilet.
- Ensure that your bins, both sanitary and otherwise, are maintained with a regular sanitary bin service – especially if your toilets are particularly busy or are used by both sexes.
- Smell is the number one complaint for public toilets, and it really is one of the easiest to fix. Opt for continual or aerosol pump fragrance systems, to keep your toilet smelling its best, around the clock.
- An important thing to consider if you only have room for a single toilet is that it must be inclusive and accessible to all. Disabled, children and the elderly may need extra features within the washroom, so it is important to include these as standard, but with access for everyone to use.
Want to know some more tips on making sure your commercial toilet is everything that it can be? We’ve got a whole range of blog posts, full of ideas on how to do just that here.
While there are no current regulations stipulating that you must offer toilet facilities to customers if you run a small Café, it is generally considered a positive asset to offer. And in today’s world of struggling high streets and clients becoming ever more selective, good customer experience should always be a priority. Plus, there are rumblings all the time about the loss of public conveniences that could possibly lead to a change in laws over the coming years.
If you have the space for it, always try to offer facilities to make your customers feel welcome and cared for, going that extra mile could be the thing that sets you apart from your competitors.