Fast Food and Fast Casual Restaurant Design

Design decisions to plan early for reduced cost in fast casual restaurants.

When building or renovating a restaurant for fast food, fast casual or take out, initial design decisions will save cost.

Starting a Restaurant Design

Restaurants are Assembly Group A-2 Classification 

When planning a new restaurant, decisions will be different than a restaurant renovation. Keep in mind, there are important architectural and occupational requirements for each.

First, all restaurant buildings are an Assembly Occupancy Classification. To receive a Use and Occupancy Permit for a new restaurant design, you must meet International Building Codes requirements for Assembly Group A-2.

This assembly classification is typical for many architects and contractors, so restaurant owners should easily find experienced professionals.

a2 construction type

IBC 303.3: Assembly Group A-2 with examples.

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Plan of 312 Pizza Restaurant by CMArchitects

Determine the Use of Restaurant Areas

Second, you need to begin calculating the restaurants occupant load. The use of areas within the building determines the occupant load.

For A-2 code requirement, use areas would include:

Assembly with fixed seats:

1 person per seat

Assembly without fixed seats:

Standing Space 5 net sf per person

Chairs only 7 net sf per person

Tables and chairs 15 net sf per person

Kitchen, commercial:

200 gross sf per person

Accessory storage areas:

300 gross sf per person

The most affordable building type for a fast casual or take out restaurant is:

– Construction Type 5-B (Unsprinkled)

– Single story less than 6,000 square feet.

This Construction Type includes no cost for plumbing upgrades for a costly sprinkler system, no cost for fire resistant construction at walls and roofs, and no fire separation within the restaurant (i.e. the dining and kitchen do not need a separation wall).

Determine the Occupant Load of the Restaurant

For Group A-2 Occupancy with fixed seating, the seats are counted to determine the occupant load.  Seating for multiple people without dividing arms (like benches) are calculated at 18 linear inches of seating length per person.

Additional occupied space (like a waiting area) is calculated using the occupant load factor for that space, which is then added to the number of fixed seats.

Net and Gross Floor Area of a Restaurant

Gross floor area is measured within the inside surface of the walls, and includes all occupied and non occupied spaces.

Bathrooms, closets, electrical/mechanical rooms, and other non occupied spaces are never subtracted from the gross floor area.

Net floor area is calculated for occupied areas only.

Non-occupied spaces like corridors, stairs, bathrooms, electrical/mechanical rooms, closets, and fixed equipment are subtracted from the gross floor area to determine the net floor area.

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McDonald’s Interior Renovations by CMArchitects

Check out our Restaurant Design

See our Fast Casual Restaurant Design Approach

Other Related Restaurant Design articles:’s Front-of-House Operations article about Restaurant Renovations is a great resource on the design upgrades for your restaurant type.


If you are new to restaurant ownership, or are curious about restaurants as a business, we recommend Toast’s Restaurant Business Plan Tips. Always be prepared!


Fire suppression systems are a very costly line item for restaurants, especially if your restaurant design did not meet minimum requirements during permitting. Use this fire suppression system vs cost to ask the right questions from the beginning – Kitchen Fire Suppression Systems

CMArchitects PLLC offers expertise in fast food, take out and fast casual restaurant design.

We have worked with owners, operators and franchisees in over 300 restaurants.

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