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Flexible Outdoor Seating

Outdoor seating iconTo ensure safe social distancing while dining, food service establishments might need to create new outdoor seating areas or increase the amount of permitted outdoor seating. Temporary COVID-19-related provisions could involve allowing businesses to relocate some of their existing permitted indoor seating to an outdoor location or could involve expanding an existing outdoor seating area to create more space between tables through a streamlined temporary permitting process. Locations for expanded outdoor seating might include public spaces such as sidewalks, parking lots, and parking lanes. The intent of the temporary permit is to facilitate dining service in outdoor locations where social distancing is easier to achieve. Planning or other relevant boards might consider delegating review to town staff if their bylaw allows. Properties within local historic districts may require a separate permit from an historic district review board for outdoor dining and temporary structures associated with it. The historic board might also consider delegating review of these temporary structures to town staff if their bylaw allows. For longer-term changes (beyond temporary COVID-19 measures) approval by relevant boards may be necessary.


  • Availability of outdoor space adjacent to the business, either on the subject lot, in an adjacent parking area, or in another approved location, including sidewalks and parking lanes
  • Safe separation of seating areas from vehicle traffic
  • Proximity to sensitive resources such as adjacent neighborhoods, environmental resources, or industrial uses
  • Potential interest in live outdoor entertainment to accompany outdoor seating, and whether to address these events through special licenses granted through the town
  • Length of time for temporary permit (90 days – 6 months)

Sample administrative review checklist for temporary flexible outdoor seating permit

  • Completed application with detailed sketch of the proposed layout, drawn to scale on a map of the property, for review by the designated town staff with sufficient detail to determine the layout, location, and safety measures proposed
  • Dining tables are spaced according to public health guidelines
  • Tables do not block entrances, exits, fire lanes, hydrants, drive aisles, back-up areas, or pedestrian circulation
  • Outdoor seating does not block handicapped parking spaces or handicapped access
  • A physical barrier or separation, such as bollards or planter boxes, protects customers from vehicle traffic both on-site and adjacent to the site
  • The outdoor seating plan meets Fire Department standards, including points of egress, access to fire extinguishers, and tent and awning fire safety ratings, if applicable
  • Outdoor dining areas are maintained and free of trash and other debris
  • Operating hours do not exceed the hours of indoor seating
  • Any planned outdoor entertainment is licensed by the town with specifics regarding when it will occur and how safe social distance will be provided
  • Health Agent review and approval


  • Provincetown issued an order whereby restaurants wishing to expand seating into outdoor areas can do so in certain locations through a written application for approval by the Board of Health or its authorized agent.
  • The City of Worcester’s 2020 Temporary Outdoor Dining Program allows restaurants to establish outdoor dining in parking lots and other outdoor areas, suspends minimum parking requirements to enable the temporary conversion of parking to outdoor dining areas, and lifts normally-applicable caps on the number of seats provided outdoors. Restaurants must comply with all applicable building code, fire code, and public health requirements, including COVID-19 safety and controls measures. The city has also waived licensing fees for outdoor dining applications.
  • Palm Bay, Florida created a simple process to expedite requests for outdoor dining permits on a case by case basis, requiring a detailed sketch of the proposed outdoor seating plan, showing how it complies with requirements for spacing, safety, etc.
  • Warwick, Rhode Island mayor signed an executive order to expedite the process for permitting outdoor seating at restaurants with no additional fees.
  • Washington, D.C. has issued a guide for restaurants, shops, and community organizations on how they may use public outdoor spaces including sidewalks and parking lanes.


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