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Restaurant Health Permitting - My System

By: Karl Travis, Partner and RID at Hager Design International Inc.

I am a Registered Interior Designer and I have an extensive background working in restaurants. My experience led me down this path and today I design restaurants for a career. I’m heavily involved in restaurant design trends, color influencing food establishments, menu design, front-of-house design, and back-of-house design amongst many other design insights. I’ve been researching food safety and wanted to share my experiences in which design can help with creating a safer environment for restaurant patrons.

Have you ever had a food borne illness? I wasn’t pretty, so I’ll spare you the details. When you have an opportunity to go out with friends or family, you shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not you could get sick. Now, I’m not going to tell you that design is the be all and end all to food safety, but it certainly helps. I have a system, and I’ll share what I know.

When I receive a new project location, the first step is to research which health jurisdiction it falls under and find out what is required. When gathering this information, I look for a few things: an application form, a guide to setting up a restaurant (usually shows a generic layout), any other requirements and a phone number. The phone number is the important detail. I find out who the inspector is and call to speak with them directly. I begin to create a rapport with them. I make them feel important because they are. After a client approves the layout and detailed equipment schedule, RCP/schedule, and the finishes plan/schedule, I send it to the inspector for design and approval. When and ONLY when I receive that approval, I proceed to have engineered drawings generated. Why? - I can practically guarantee you that most, if not all inspectors, first look at the number and locations of hand wash stations. If they are not happy with the number and locations of hand wash stations, it's better you find out early rather than later. Later could cause major headaches and even a delay in opening. Changing it early on a drawing is much easier. Speaking with the inspector directly about the layout also helps because they sometimes have "rules of thumb" that they don't include in their documentation.

Once you have an approved plan, the rapport you established earlier comes in handy. Inspectors hate surprises. If there are any changes during construction, such as site conditions forcing the relocation of anything resulting in moving sinks, or anything that makes you question the chance of cross-contamination, a simple call to the inspector is required. That way there are no surprises.

When the final inspection time comes, it is very important to have your client/franchisee/food service trainer schedule the final inspection well in advance. Inspectors really like this courtesy. There is nothing worse than an inspector showing up the day you want to open with customers eating and fryers working overtime.

Food service is not any easy job, I've been there. Operators run into all different types of difficulties when running their businesses. If the design of the space contributes to the reduction of food borne illness, things will run smoother. It's up to the operators to follow the food handling protocol that they learned from various provincial food handling courses and the franchise food safety and sanitation plans. That said, your restaurant design can start your business off in the right direction.

Interior designers have an important role in the scheme of a restaurant opening so be sure to utilize their knowledge and methodology.


Karl Travis is a Partner and an RID for Hager Design International Inc. Karl can be reached at

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