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Sidewalk Cafés

What's New

SDOT is piloting a fence-free design option for sidewalk cafés this summer!

A recent change by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board allows certain businesses with SDOT sidewalk café permits to use pavement markers instead of the standard 42-inch high barrier. This new option is intended to help restaurants integrate their sidewalk cafés with adjacent public space and improve customer movement in and around the café area.

Please see the Fact Sheet for more information. An FAQ with more details is coming soon.


Example of an attractive sidewalk cafe with required pedestrian clearances

Do you want to expand your restaurant or café to include open-air seating on the sidewalk? The City of Seattle encourages sidewalk seating to increase public use, enjoyment, and safety. With proper design and management, this can be a great way to encourage walking, add vitality to the street, and promote local economic development.

Sidewalk seating associated with an adjacent business requires a Street Use permit from SDOT. There are two options – a “tables and chairs” permit and a sidewalk café permit.

Tables and Chairs Permits

A tables and chairs permit allows a business to set out up to four tables, with two chairs each, on the sidewalk immediately adjacent to the business. These are open for use by both customers and the general public, table service may not be provided, and alcohol cannot be consumed.

Tables and chairs must be removed daily and no fixed improvements (e.g. a railing) may be installed. Freestanding umbrellas are not included in this permit.

To apply for a tables and chairs permit, the following materials are required:

  1. Annual Permit Application
  2. One-time application-review fee. Please see the current Street Use fee schedule for current rates.
  3. 3. Site plan showing dimensions of encroachment and available pedestrian clearance. See Client Assistance Memo 2503, Section VI. B. Sidewalk Cafe Standards
  4. Insurance documentation. See Client Assistance Memo (CAM) 2102

Applications may be submitted via email, mail, or in person at the Street Use Permit Counter on the 23rd floor of the Seattle Municipal Tower at 700 5th Ave, Seattle, WA.

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Sidewalk Café Permits

A sidewalk café permit is required where table service will be provided and alcohol may be served, if the business holds a liquor license. Sidewalk cafes are for the exclusive use of the sponsoring business, and require a railing, unless the business is participating in the fence-free pilot permit program.

Applications for a Street Use permit for a sidewalk café may be submitted either by the property owner or the operator of a food service establishment as defined by the Seattle Municipal Code 10.10.004 (O).

Sidewalk café designs must comply with guidelines as described in SDOT Director’s Rule 4-2011, including providing a clear path of travel and following setback requirements from obstructions, as shown in the example below.

If approved, your permit will include terms and conditions that must be met as part of the regular operation of the sidewalk café. If permit conditions are maintained and the business has not changed ownership, SDOT will renew the permit annually by invoice. All street use permits are wholly of a temporary nature and can be revoked by SDOT, per SMC 15.04.070.

Refer to Client Assistance Memo 2503 for more information on the application process, permit requirements, and fees.

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