How do you calculate the IBC maximum occupancy load for commercial bars?
Discover how design factors, such as floor area allowances and seating types affect building occupancy.
HOW DO YOU CALCULATE THE IBC MAXIMUM OCCUPANT LOAD FOR A BAR?
The following is the interpretation and opinion of Rick Uzubell and covers overlapping requirements of building codes, standards and regulations and is only a general guideline. Consult your loc architect for exact information.
For those who are unaware, the stated occupancy for all buildings is a combination of the building code and fire codes. The International Building Code (known as IBC) is a solid point of reference, but can be superseded by local building codes, because it’s regarded as the minimum acceptable standard. The local fire official has the final stamp of approval of stated occupancies. For this discussion the building of interest will be a 4,700 sq.ft., nonsprinkled onestory restaurant/bar and the IBC is what I’ll be referencing.
As defined by the IBC, restaurants and bars fall under the use and classification of ‘Assembly Group A2’ and the most basic governing limitation is the quantity of egresses (known as exits). Fire safety is at the core of all building codes and egress is the first criteria we need to address. The following table stipulates the number of exits for various occupancies:
Occupant Load  Exits 
049  1 
50500  2 
5011,000  3 
More than 1,000  4 
The general guidelines for floor area allowances per occupant for A2 occupancy is as follows:
When calculating occupancy, we do not use one calculation for the entire building. We need to apply the occupancy rules for each of the various areas to attain accurate calculations. Consider the 4,700 sq.ft., onestory, nonsprinkled sports barrestaurant shown here. The following is an evaluation of each seating area in the frontofthehouse:
 The Reception area is a 30 sq.ft. space in the vestibule. IBC allows us to factor 5 sq.ft. per patron, as this is standing space; this yields a total occupancy of 6 (we would only be allowed 7 sq.ft. per patron if this were chairsonly).
 For the Bar, we cannot include the area inside this island bar in our calculation – only the number of seats around the perimeter, which is 29.
 The overall area of the Bar and adjacent Bar Dining is 1,393 sq.ft., but in order to calculate the occupancy for Bar Dining, we must deduct the area of the bar, which is 410 sq.ft. This leaves us a net calculation of 983 sq.ft. According to IBC, for areas with tables and chairs we need to allocate 15 sq.ft. per patron in this area, which yields an occupancy of 65.
 The fourth area of this facility is the Dining Room. Again, in order to calculate occupancy, we can only use the net area, as depicted within this border, which is 681 sq.ft., and because we’re using tables and chairs, the occupancy for the Dining Room is 45.
 The VIP Room, which is 183 sq.ft. and has tables and sofas, we again apply 15 sq.ft. per patron for a total of 12.
If the Dining Room were a dance floor, IBC would allow 5 sq.ft. per patron, which would yield on occupant load of 136 in that area. On the other hand, if an owner wished to operate the Dining Room space as a dance floor on weekends, the local fire official may only grant the mostrestrictive occupancy of 45.
If this were a fine dining facility, many owners would likely create a more comfortable open space by allocating 1820 sq.ft. per patron, which would reduce the occupant load to 3437.
Back to the example athand, to calculate the total occupancy of the barrestaurant in this example, we simply add each area, as follows:
Occupancy Calculation
Occupancy Calculation


Area  Occupancy 
Reception  06 
Bar (bar seats)  29 
Bar Dining (adjacent seating)  65 
Dining Room  45 
VIP Room  12 
Total  157 
The building code is constantly evolving. According to my good friend, architect Tom Kuhn of CSK Architects, as of 2018, IBC now requires businesses in Occupancy A2 that serve alcohol, any new or existing modified fire area over 1500 sq.ft. would be required to have sprinklers if you wanted to meet current code without implementing workaround design parameters in Chapter 34. Always consult your local architect.
I want to thank our good friends at Bullpen Luxury Sports Bar and Gelsosomo’s Pizza for their courtesy. A great place to hangout, have pizza and watch the game.
With an occupant load of 157, this building is required to have two exits. IBC prohibits egress through kitchens, store rooms, closets or through rooms that can be locked to prevent egress. According to IBC, we also need to have enough total clear egress width (commonly referred to as “exit inches”), in order to prevent “bottlenecking” under emergency exit conditions. By code, we need to factor .2” of doorway width and .3” of stairway width per patron for buildings without a sprinkler system. In this scenario this means that we’ll need a total of 31.4” (rounded up to 32”) of total egress (16” per door). Since the minimum width of commercial doors is 32”, we’re well within the acceptable range. If the building had stairways, we would have to design a total of 47.1” (rounded up to 48”) of total stairway width (24” per stairway) and since the minimum width of commercial stairways is 48”, we would be well within the acceptable range.
TODAY’S TAKEAWAY:
Final stated occupancy is the decision of the local fire marshall.
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