It is an interesting question - if I am able to sit down to eat, should I not be able to use a bathroom before doing so? Not a question I have asked myself before. However, a recent case which could be analysed by the UK's Court of Appeal may change the current requirements on cafes and coffee shops about when they are obliged to provide toilet and washing facilities for customers.
The position at the moment is that cafes or coffee shops with fewer than 10 seats are not legally required to provide customer toilets. As with a lot of legislation however, times are changing and expectations from customers are growing quicker than the law can keep up.
How do you decide whether there should or should not be a toilet provided?
Should it depend on how many tables are available in the eating area?
Or as was argued by the bakery chain Greggs and others, should the legal requirement be based on a predominant trade test? So, if your take away trade is predominantly a take-away business and food and drink would not normally be eaten on your premises, is it right that you should be required to provide bathroom facilities?
If the Court of Appeal decides that the 10 seat rule does not apply (with the effect that food establishments with fewer than 10 seats must install toilet facilities), then this will create both logistical and financial issues for the establishments concerned.
The implications for smaller independent businesses especially should not be underestimated. A small high street coffee shop may have cleverly adapted their premises to include a quirky seating area, but finding space for a bathroom may be simply impossible.
We will just have to cross our legs and wait and see!
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Despite the 10-seat guideline, thousands of takeaways and coffee shops could now be forced to install a toilet or get rid of seating following a recent case in Hull. Two branches of Greggs, both of which had fewer than 10 seats, lost a legal battle with the council after the judge ruled that not providing facilities gave them an “unfair commercial advantage”. If the ruling, which is being appealed, sets a precedent, as many as 21,500 takeaways and 5,230 coffee shops across the UK – the vast majority of which are small independent businesses – could be affected.