Before you start
This information assists business owners and contractors in understanding and implementing the Alberta Building Code requirements for restaurants and food establishments. It only describes a part of the necessary steps to opening a food establishment. Before a business licence can be issued, your food establishment must be in compliance with the Land Use Bylaw, Government of Alberta safety codes (Fire and Building), Alberta Health Services requirements and Alberta Liquor & Gaming Commission regulations.
Business owners and contractors should consult with a design professional before financially committing to a location, as the cost to make necessary upgrades or changes to a building may be expensive. The City of Calgary does not determine who should perform or pay for any necessary upgrades between a tenant, building manager or landlord, but a Business Licence cannot be issued for a space that does not meet the Alberta Building Code.
General permit information
Building permits may be required for a new business or a business changing ownership, even if there is no construction planned. A building permit is required so that a safety codes officer can review the suitability of a space for a food business. Upgrades to the space may be necessary to comply with the Alberta Building Code and all applicable health and safety standards. The approvals your food establishment requires may differ from previous restaurants in the same location.
Opening a food establishment may also require trade permits for plumbing, gas, electrical or mechanical work, applied for by a qualified trade contractor. The types of trade permits required will depend on the physical space, the type of food establishment and how existing conditions serve the type of business.
When is a building permit required?
A building permit is required if:
- A tenant space has a new use (e.g. a retail store changes to a restaurant).
- Construction is required, including structural or partition wall changes, and mechanical, plumbing, gas or electrical work.
- The number of seats, type of food served or kitchen equipment changes.
We’re committed to providing you with a timely response on your permit application.
A building permit for tenant improvement can be issued within 21 days, provided code requirements are met and all necessary documentation is provided in the application. The timeline of a permit application will increase if amendments or resubmissions are needed from the applicant. Refer to the Restaurant and Food Service Establishment Requirement List for detailed submission requirements.
Trade permits can be requested online and most will be issued the same day as the application. However, mechanical trade permits for commercial kitchen ventilation systems and AFE (automatic fire extinguishing) systems require mechanical plans to be submitted and examined. These types of trade permits are generally issued within a week from the date plans are received.
Occupancy: The use, or intended use of a space, as defined by the Alberta Building Code.
Occupant load: The number of people who may occupy a space, calculated as both Design Occupant Load and Operational Occupant Load, outlined in the Alberta Building Code and Alberta Fire Code, respectively. See the How is occupant load calculated drop-down for more information.
Can my location be used as a restaurant?
To learn if a building is suitable for restaurant occupancy, contact a designer or architect and ask them to classify the building. Classification is determined by building size (footprint area and number of storeys), construction type (wood or concrete and steel), sprinkler installation and occupancy. It will determine what types of businesses are suitable for that location.
Depending on how the existing building is classified, changes and upgrades may be necessary to accommodate a food establishment. The nature of these changes will vary according to the current building occupancy classification, size and number of storeys. For example, a particular building without sprinklers may be suitable for a retail store but not suitable for a restaurant (due to the size, height and construction of the building).
Examples of building occupancy classification for a restaurant
2014 Alberta Building Code 184.108.40.206 Group A, Division 2, 1 storey
A restaurant is permitted under this classification if the floor area of the entire building is less than 400 m2. There are no restrictions on construction type and no requirements for fire ratings or sprinklers in this classification.
2014 Alberta Building Code 220.127.116.11 Group A, Division 2, 2 storeys
A restaurant is permitted under this classification if the floor area (building footprint) of the entire building is less than 2400 m2 but there are restrictions. The floors in the building must be fire rated and the building must have a sprinkler system.
2014 Alberta Building Code 18.104.22.168 Group A Division 2, up to 6 storeys
A restaurant is only permitted under this classification if the building is constructed of non-combustible construction (e.g. steel or concrete), floors are fire rated and there is a sprinkler system in the building.
What type of occupancy will my food service establishment be classified as?
Food service establishments will be classified as one of two occupancy types:
- Group E, retail occupancy: a take-out food establishment with no seating.
- Group A2, assembly occupancy: a restaurant or other food service establishment with seating.
How is occupant load calculated?
Occupant load is calculated in two ways:
Operational Occupant Load is determined by the Alberta Fire Code and sets a maximum number of occupants, based on the size of tenant space, number and width of exit facilities and activities taking place (e.g. alcohol service). When reviewing these categories, the aspect of the business that allows the fewest number of occupants per the Alberta Fire Code will form the Operational Occupant Load. (Refer to Fire STANDATA Bulletin 97-IB-008: Guidelines for Determination of Occupant Load for further information).
In addition to the Fire Code requirements, the Alberta Building Code limits the number of people that may occupy a space, based on how the layout is configured and serviced (including seats, washrooms, exits and fire alarm systems); this is called Design Occupant Load.
A design load may differ from an operational load, but the smaller load always determines the maximum number of occupants allowed. Businesses may intentionally restrict a design load to limit the number of clientele or the design load may be set lower, due to existing building considerations. (Refer to Fire STANDATA Bulletin FCB-08-02: Calculating Occupant Loads in Assembly Occupancy for further information).
How do I know what fire resistance rating is required for a tenant demising wall?
The fire resistance rating of a demising wall will vary based on the occupancy classification of adjacent tenants. Generally, a two hour fire resistance rating is required, but this may be reduced to one hour if a restaurant tenant is adjacent to another restaurant or office. Contact your landlord for information about the demising wall construction, which must be notated on architectural plans.
Where must exits be located?
Exit doors must be in locations where it is not necessary for customers to pass through a kitchen or storage area to reach the exit door.
How many exit doors do I need?
At least two exit doors are required if:
- A sprinklered tenant space has more than:
- 200 m2
- 60 people
- 25 m travel distance to an exit door
- An unsprinklered tenant space has more than:
- 150 m2
- 60 people
- 15 m travel distance to an exit door
Barrier-free washroom: A washroom that can be approached, entered and used by people with physical, mental or sensory disabilities. Barrier-free design requirements are specified per the Alberta Building Code.
How many washrooms do I need?
Note: Alberta Health Services regulations require that at least one washroom with a toilet must be accessible for the use of workers.
Table 22.214.171.124.A. – Water Closets for an Assembly Occupancy
(Reproduced with the permission of the National Research Council of Canada, copyright holder.)
Where can my washrooms be located?
Customer washrooms are not allowed to be in locations where customers have to pass through food preparation or food handling areas (including food storage) to reach the washroom. This regulation is set by Alberta Health Services.
Staff washrooms cannot open directly into food preparation or food storage areas. This regulation is set by Alberta Health Services.
Do my washrooms have to be barrier-free?
Existing washrooms in restaurants do not need to be upgraded to be barrier-free, if there are no changes made to walls or plumbing fixture locations. New washrooms must be constructed to be barrier-free accessible. For detailed washroom requirements and exceptions, please review the Alberta Building Code 126.96.36.199. If you need clarification on specific washroom requirements or exceptions, ask for the Technical Assistance Centre at 403-268-5311.
What if the physical layout of the building makes it difficult to provide a barrier-free washroom?
Contact Alberta Municipal Affairs to see if they will consider a relaxation for your particular situation. Complete the Application for Relaxation of Required Facilities for the Disabled.
Storage and finishes
What interior finish materials are required in a kitchen?
Walls, floors and ceilings need to be constructed of durable materials that are smooth, non-absorbent and capable of being easily cleaned in:
- Food preparing, processing and storing areas
- Dish cleaning areas
- Freezers and fridges
- Garbage and storage rooms
Wall and ceiling finishes should be light coloured, because a light coloured finish aids in the even distribution of light and the detection of unclean conditions that can then be corrected. For more information on Alberta Health Services' finishing requirements refer to Approval of New or Renovated Food Facilities.
What type of storage do I need for my restaurant?
Alberta Health Services regulations require adequate storage space be provided for:
- Food (both cold food and non-cold food)
- Staff personal items
- Cleaning equipment and supplies
For more information on Alberta Health Services storage regulations, refer to Alberta Health Services - Approval of New or Renovated Food Facilities.
Can I add a patio to my restaurant?
The process of adding a patio to a food establishment depends on the location and patio activities. Contact the Planning Services Centre for more information on use approvals and licensing.
The following information outlines the process for adding a patio to a restaurant, based on its location and use:
- If your patio will be located on City of Calgary property, such as a public sidewalk, road or lane, contact 311 to obtain information on a Licence of Occupation.
- If your patio will not exit directly to the exterior (you have to go back into the restaurant to leave), the total occupant load may affect fire alarm requirements. The patio occupant load must be included in your overall Design Occupant Load, however, the patio area will not be included in the area used to calculate the Operational Occupant Load for licensed premises.
- If your patio will have more than 50 seats, additional washrooms will be required. See the washrooms section above.
If you will be preparing or staging food on your patio, such as using a BBQ, a hand washing sink must be located in close proximity.
Note: If you will be serving alcohol on the patio, contact the Alberta Gaming & Liquor Commission (AGLC).
NFPA 96: National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 96 is the “Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations”. Information on this subject can be obtained from a mechanical designer, contractor or engineer. It is also available for purchase from the NFPA.
The requirements in this standard must be met when cooking processes have the potential to produce significant smoke or grease laden vapours. Kitchen cooking equipment must be protected with an automatic fire suppression system and ventilation hood.
When does my kitchen ventilation system need to meet the NFPA 96 standard?
An NFPA 96 system is required when cooking or using appliances, including griddles, broilers, woks, fryers, ranges and stoves, that have the potential to produce grease laden vapours or smoke. Examples of these activities are:
- frying eggs, bacon or hash browns
- cooking raw meat products
- donairs or other food products cooked with oil
For more information on when the NFPA 96 standard is required, please contact your mechanical designer.
A NFPA 96 system is not required when cooking processes do not produce grease laden vapours or smoke. Examples of these processes include:
- warming pre-cooked food (e.g. hot dogs, soups, stews, etc.)
- boiling water for pasta
- cooking potatoes or rice
- poaching eggs
- heating beverages
- baking cookies, bread, cakes, eggs
- baking pizza in a closed oven
If I do not need to meet the NFPA 96 standard, what type of ventilation is required?
A mechanical ventilation system that includes canopies, ductwork and fans to remove odours, smoke, steam or heat to the exterior of the building is required when there is cooking, baking or reheating food in a space. These canopies, hoods and ductwork need to be constructed of stainless steel.
Additionally, make-up air is required if more than 180 cubic feet per minute (cfm) must be exhausted. Make-up air that exceeds 300 cfm must be heated.
Where can my NFPA 96 kitchen exhaust duct be terminated?
Exhaust ducts can terminate above a roof or at a wall. The exhaust must be located 10 feet or more from property lines or air intakes. Refer to NFPA 96 for detailed requirements.
Is it possible to terminate my kitchen ventilation system into a City-owned lane?
Although it is preferable to have the exhaust system terminate on the roof of a building, in cases where this is not possible, a wall exhaust termination may be permitted in a City lane as long as an ecology unit is installed.
Plumbing and gas
Why do I need grease interceptors (traps)?
Wastewater Bylaw 14M2012 and the National Plumbing Code require each food service business to own and use a properly sized grease interceptor. For more information visit Fat, oil, grease - traps or interceptors.
Where do I need to install grease interceptors?
You must have interceptors installed on any fixture that discharges fat, oil or grease, such as a dishwasher or dishwashing, food prep and mop sinks.
National Plumbing Code 188.8.131.52. *
Can I have exposed piping (no ceiling finish) in my tenant space?
You are allowed to have exposed piping in a tenant space, but you cannot have drainage piping located directly above food handling areas or processing equipment. This prevents potential leaks from drain, waste and vent piping over food areas.
National Plumbing Code 184.108.40.206. *
Which devices require an indirect plumbing connection to a drainage system?
Any device used for the display, storage, preparation or processing of food or drink (including sinks, refrigerated food displays and ice bins) requires an indirect plumbing connection to a drainage system.
What standards do my plumbing fixtures need to meet?
All restaurant plumbing fixtures must conform to CAN/CSA –B45 General Requirements for Plumbing Fixtures.
For more information, contact your mechanical designer, engineer or plumbing contractor.
What size of hot water tank do I need?
Alberta Health Services requires restaurants to have a 40 US gallon storage tank minimum or an instantaneous hot water heater.
What is required if my hot water tank is installed in the ceiling?
If your hot water tank is located in a ceiling space, it must have a drain pan and a 1.25 inch (31.75 mm) drain line that leads to a safe location, like over a floor drain.
Note: hot water tanks may be electric or gas fired. For the hot water tanks that are electric and the water inlet is at the bottom of the tank, a vacuum breaker must be installed to ensure that water is not drained out of the tank through siphoning.
National Plumbing Code 220.127.116.11. (10) *
What if I want to use a coffee, ice cream or soda machine?
You will need to install backflow prevention devices (e.g. air gaps and vacuum breakers) to prevent the backflow of liquids through cross connection.
National Plumbing Code 18.104.22.168.*
Where do staff hand washing sinks need to be located? How many do I require?
There should be hand washing sinks in the bar, kitchen, wait-staff staging area and coffee stations.
Hand sinks should have splash guards if the distance to an ice bin is less than 18 in (457 mm).
Where should mop sinks be located?
Mop sinks should be located at least 10 feet (3 m) away from a food preparation or storage area, unless the mop sink is located in a separate room.
How many dishwashing sinks do I need?
The number of sinks you need is dependent on the types of food served, the types of utensils used and the use of a dishwasher.
Consult Alberta Health Services - Starting a Food Business in Calgary and Surrounding Areas – Appendix D for detailed requirements.
* We recommend discussing plumbing code questions with your plumber, however, if you need clarification on specific plumbing code requirements or exceptions, ask for the Technical Assistance Centre at 403-268-5311.
Electrical and fire alarm systems
When do I need a fire alarm system?
You will need a fire alarm system when the occupant load exceeds 150 people.
Does my NFPA 96 kitchen exhaust canopy have to be tied into the fire alarm system?
Yes. If a building has a fire alarm system, a fire in the kitchen exhaust hood or ducts will cause the fire suppression system to turn on. The suppression system must then alert the fire alarm system that there is a fire in the kitchen.
What are the requirements for light fixtures in food preparation areas?
Alberta Health Services requires light fixtures in areas where food is prepared or processed to be constructed with shatterproof covers or located so that the food areas will not be contaminated by broken glass in the event that a bulb or tube breaks.
Refer to Alberta Health Services - Approval of New or Renovated Food Facilities.
Preparing your drawings
When applying for a building permit, please follow the Restaurant and Food Service Establishments Requirements List. Drawings need to be accurate, legible and contain necessary information on mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems, as well as details on washrooms, fire ratings and any other affected areas of the Alberta Building Code. Please use the requirement list carefully to ensure all necessary items are included.
If additional assistance is required, consider hiring an architect, engineer or designer that is familiar with the food establishment standards in the Alberta Building Code.
When is a professional architect or engineer required to work on plans?
According to the Alberta Building Code, an architect and mechanical and electrical engineers must design and inspect your plans for the intended location if the tenant space is 300 square metres or greater for food establishments with seating or 500 square metres or greater for food establishments without seating. Drawings submitted for your building permit application must be stamped by the designing professionals.
For projects that do not require professional involvement, we recommend consulting a design specialist if an applicant is unable to produce acceptable plans for permit submission.
Building permit sample drawings
Disclaimer: This information has no legal status and cannot be used as an official interpretation of the various bylaws, codes and regulations currently in effect. The City of Calgary accepts no responsibility to persons relying solely on this information. Web pages are updated periodically.