How is COVID-19 affecting retail, restaurants? Learn about codes and standards

With consumers frequently enjoying delivered meals and shopping for goods online, brick-and-mortar restaurants and retail structures need to be more advanced than ever to compete

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer June 16, 2020


  • Scott Garrison, principal, Peter Basso Associates, Troy, Mich. An electrical engineer for more than 30 years, Garrison heads up his company’s Commercial and Government Buildings market sector group. He has worked on a range of projects including large corporate headquarters, data centers, casinos, sports and entertainment venues, municipal and educational facilities.
  • Jessica Iversen, PE, Seattle office leader | project engineer, RTM Engineering Consultants, Seattle. As RTM’s Seattle office leader, Iversen Jessica manages a team of engineers and designers working in a variety of market sectors across the country. Her portfolio encompasses design in retail spaces, educational facilities, multifamily residential, restaurants, and and a range of tenant build-outs projects.
  • Bradley D. Williams, PE, vice president, Bala Consulting Engineers, New York City. In his role of vice president of MEP, Williams manages the overall New York office operations and oversees a broad range of projects, encompassing the infrastructure, hospitality, data center and, and corporate markets. His more than 27 years of experience includes projects for high-profile clients like Deloitte, JPMC and Rockefeller Center.
  • Jason Wollum, PE, LEED AP BD+C, retail practice director | senior vice president, Henderson Engineers, Kansas City. Having joined the company in 1997, Wollum is now a senior vice president responsible for the design, management and, and coordination of several programs. He also mentors young engineers at the company.

CSE: Please explain some of the codes, standards and guidelines you commonly use during the project’s design process. Which codes/standards should engineers be most aware of?

Wollum: Henderson works on a wide variety of projects throughout the United States and Canada, and we are accustomed to working with a wide variety of codes. Typically, the most stringent codes are California energy codes. Many major cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have their own building codes with unique requirements.

Iversen: For retail and restaurant design, many clients have strict brand standards to adhere to. These often drive many design decisions, but it is important that each different location is evaluated for any necessary revisions to these standards in order to comply with local codes or to better operate in challenging climates. For restaurants, it’s important to also check with the local department of health requirements, as these can vary from state to state.

CSE: What are some best practices to ensure that such buildings meet and exceed codes and standards?

Iversen: It’s important to review local codes and requirements for each and every project, even if similar designs are being utilized at multiple locations. Commissioning is also a vital aspect of verifying that installed systems match the design intent.

Wollum: Doing due diligence on a project to verify requirements is always a good practice. We also keep a record of code requirements for all our projects so that other designers at Henderson can easily access best practices for a specific jurisdiction.

CSE: How are codes, standards or guidelines for energy efficiency impacting the design of retail, restaurant and mixed-use facilities?

Williams: In light of the recent COVID-19 concerns, we expect that the basis of design for higher density spaces (especially in high rent locations such as New York) will exceed the current code requirements to provide sufficient ventilation and filtration, to in order to address the concerns and well-being of the occupants. We believe that codes will be revised to accommodate recent lessons learned as part of COVID-19. Whereas engineers have spent years studying and evaluating spaces in order to increase densification and reduce energy costs, we will now be looking at spaces through a different lens; to reduce the occupant density, increase ventilation and increase filtration, which all work against the prevailing basis up to this point. These changes will impact rental area, first costs, and operating costs for occupants.

Iversen: Many restaurant and retail clients already have their own standards. One of the most common codes to drive change in client standards are the energy codes. These codes are changing so rapidly and vary so greatly across the country, that many companies’ standards are not keeping up with these codes. The design team shouldn’t take a prototype or client standard as a substitution for doing solid due diligence on local codes and requirements.

CSE: What new or updated code, standard, guideline, organization or association do you feel will change the way such projects are designed, bid out or built?

Wollum: The latest changes to California’s Title 24 will continue to drive the industry in terms of energy efficiency standards for buildings.

Iversen: The energy codes especially are rapidly evolving, driving changes in these types of facilities almost continuously. Lighting and lighting controls are required to comply with ever more stringent requirements. Energy recovery and demand control ventilation are becoming the baseline standard in restaurants. Dedicated outdoor air systems are required more often in retail settings. Another major change is the move away from fossil fuels, as cities and jurisdictions start to ban natural gas in new construction.

CSE: What are some of the biggest challenges when considering code compliance and designing or working with existing buildings?

Iversen: Partial renovations and upgrades especially pose a challenge when working to comply with current codes. Due to the rapid evolution of energy codes, most existing systems do not comply with current standards and lack the flexibility to be easily upgraded into compliance. Finding the right balance between full upgrades or tying new components into an existing system can be a challenge while also staying within a project budget. Clear communication with the whole design team and owner is a must in these scenarios.

Wollum: Working with the owner, architect, and the rest of the design team to fully understand the scope of work for the project. Many codes have different requirements based upon the percentage of an existing building that is being renovated. Knowing the code and scope of work can help the design team to right-size the project in order to meet the clients’ needs in a way that impacts the building as much or little as wanted.