Meeting restaurant ceiling requirements


The customer’s perception of cleanliness is also of great importance to a restaurant’s atmosphere. Appearance is psychologically linked to food purity and freshness; thus, a clean-looking restaurant makes guests feel safer. The types of soiling common in the front of house are different than the back of house, and include dust, dirt from the street, spilled food and drink, smoke, and airborne pollution. Ceilings are also subject to soiling in areas near HVAC diffusers. Black or grey discolouration is created by particulates from ventilation streams which attach to ceilings due to the Coanda effect—the tendency of a fluid jet to stay attached to adjacent surfaces. Ceilings should be selected with regard to their ability to be vacuumed, swept, wiped, and washed. Painting can also refresh the appearance of dirty ceilings. However, if not done carefully, it can impact the appearance and noise reduction properties of perforated panels and absorbent materials such as mineral fibre.

Health regulations

Health regulations for food establishments are largely written by each individual province or territory. While it is beyond the scope of this article to detail all of the health regulations pertaining to Canadian restaurants, a sampling of the different provincial codes gives some idea of the general situation.

Few of the regulations specifically detail the front-of-house; they either consider the entire restaurant as a food establishment, or only specifically regulate food preparation and storage areas.  Some regulations say only a little about design and construction, requiring that restaurants be “of sound construction and in a good state of repair” and “designed so as to ensure the safe and sanitary handling of food in it.” The British Columbia Food Premises Regulation adds that it should be constructed from materials which are “durable, easily cleaned, and free from any noxious or toxic substance.”

Some key terms used in the codes, such as “easily cleanable,” are not defined. Test reports on products that have been tested according to ASTM D1308–Effect of Household Chemicals on Clear and Pigmented Organic Finishes may provide some guidance on stain resistance and cleanability relative to food substances. Similarly, ASTM C367/C367M, Standard Test Method of Strength Properties of Prefabricated Architectural Acoustical Tile or Lay-in Ceiling Panels tests material properties associated with durability. Noxious or toxic content should be disclosed on the product’s Material Safety Datasheet.

At the other end of the range, the regulations in Alberta and Nova Scotia are the most specific (and are identically worded):

Walls and ceilings in food preparation, processing and storage areas should be:

i) constructed of finishes such as tile, plaster, sealed brick, stainless steel, or other equivalent materials, which are impervious, washable, durable and light coloured

ii) kept in good repair

iii) kept in a clean and sanitary manner

iv) free from flaking materials

v) free of pitting and cracks


Properly finished walls and ceiling are easier to clean and as such, are more likely to be kept clean. A light coloured finish aids in the even distribution of light and the detection of unclean conditions that can then be corrected.

Designers should consult provincial, territorial, and local codes to determine what ceiling materials are acceptable in a particular project.

Fire Safety

The National Building Code (NBC) classifies restaurants under Group A (Assembly) occupancies, but the occupancy classification (and therefore, requirements) of a particular restaurant may depend on its size, the occupancy classification of the overall building in which it is housed, and the code of the province, territory, or city in which it is located. Group A occupancies generally require ceiling finish materials with a flame spread of no more than 150, or not more than 75 if the location is not sprinklered, tested according to CAN/ULC-S102-10.

Again, designers should consult provincial, territorial, and local codes to determine what ceiling materials are acceptable in a particular project.

Lighting levels

Some of the provincial codes specifically require restaurants (or food preparation areas) to have adequate lighting for the safe performance of tasks. Depending on their location, lighting fixtures may or may not involve the ceiling. An intimate setting might only be illuminated by indirect lighting, but a large, cafeteria-style establishment will likely have troffers, downlights, or a luminous ceiling. Light reflectance of all surfaces, including the ceiling, will affect both illumination efficacy and the room’s ambience. A highly reflective ceiling may help meet the adequate lighting requirement.

Front-of-house options

For new construction projects, almost anything—within the safety constraints of building codes—is possible, such as a restaurant ceiling festooned with empty Chianti bottles. But, the following examples constitute some of the more readily available commercial ceiling options for front-of-house areas.

Hard-lid ceilings

Hard-lid ceilings made from gypsum board, plaster, or beadboard are appropriate in many places, and depending on their painted finishes, they are durable and washable. However, they require access hatches to reach overhead services and offer little noise attenuation.

Suspended ceilings

In many restaurants, the overhead structure is left exposed to add visual height to the space and an industrial esthetic. While this can be economical, savings are reduced by the extra efforts required to make structural members, ducts, and other equipment visually presentable. The added volume can also require additional lighting and air-conditioning capacity.

Most commercial buildings use suspended ceilings to conceal, yet allow access to, above-ceiling cavities which host services such as plumbing, ductwork, electrical, and fire-suppression systems. The most versatile suspension system is the T-bar suspension system conforming to ASTM C635/C635M, Standard Specification for Manufacture, Performance, and Testing of Metal Suspension Systems for Acoustical Tile and Lay-in Panel Ceilings, with either a 610 x 610 mm (24 x 24 in.) or 610 x 1220 mm (24 x 48 in.) module.

While the grid imposes a visual order, the overall character of the ceiling depends on the style of tiles or panels in the grid. Although the flat, white expanse of drop-in mineral fibre panels is common, other options have greater decorative properties, such as three-dimensional panels that create textured, patterned ceilings in a range of styles and colours.

There is a standard for mineral fibre and similar panels, ASTM E1264 Standard Classification for Acoustical Ceiling Products, that details certain performance properties. No such similar standard has been written for metal, wood, or thermoformed panels.

Metal ceilings

Metal panel systems are made in a great variety of styles, shapes, and finishes. Perforations in panels can improve sound attenuation, and batt insulation or non-woven acoustic fabric backing can improve performance.

Wood ceilings

Wood ceilings have a biophilic appeal. To achieve acoustic performance, perforated, slat, or open-cell products can be used. Light reflectance depends on the colour of the wood. Wood ceilings may be heavy, and the load must be calculated to ensure it can be supported above.

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