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AG 1093: Outdoor Dining

An outdoor café permit allows a food service business to operate a café on the sidewalk, a curbspace, or other public space. Unlike a sidewalk tables and chairs permit, under an outdoor café permit, a café may provide table service and may reserve the café for their customers’ use during business hours. After hours, the space may not be locked or closed off to the public. We encourage designs that allow for public use when the business isn’t open. 

This guide covers our review process for an outdoor café permit. If your project scope includes any of the following, you may require additional licenses and permits from the City and State: 

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Step 1: Determine what permit type works best for you

Step 2: Decide where your café will go! 

Step 3: Draw up your site plan 

Step 4: Consider your details and design 

Step 5: Collect the required documents

Step 6: Apply online! 

Step 7: Post a Public Notice 

Step 8: Application Review and Site Visit

Step 9: Permit Issuance and Inspection 

Step 10: Permit renewal and maintenance


Step 1: Determine what permit type works best for you 

We have two permit options for outdoor cafes in the right-of-way, so select the option that works best for you: 

  • Long Term Use permit: This is a renewable permit that allows year-round use of the public right-of-way. You will receive yearly invoices and we will conduct periodic inspections to ensure your café continues to meet permit conditions. Have an existing permit and need to make changes? See Step 10! 
  • Seasonal Use permit: This is a permit that allows outdoor dining between April 1st and October 31st of the permitted year. You must reapply each year. 

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Step 2: Decide where your café will go! 

Types of Cafes by Location 1. Frontage zone cafes are located on the sidewalk closest to the exterior of a building and in this graphic, are indicated with a red colored rectangle, 2. Furniture zone cafes are located on the far section of the sidewalk closest to the edge of the curb and are indicated in this graphic with an orange colored rectangle. 3. Curbspace cafés are located just off the curb in the street where cars normally parallel park and are indicated in this graphic with a yellow rectangle.
Figure 1. Types of Cafés by Location
Frontage Zone
Furniture Zone
Curbspace

Before you apply, you'll need to decide what type of outdoor café(s) you’d like to install – we allow cafes in the frontage zone, furniture zone, or curbspace. We may also consider unique locations, such as plazas or alleys.  

Typically, you will apply for a café space that is directly outside of your business. If you want to extend past your business space frontage, we may allow that if at least a portion of your café footprint is within your frontage. To allow extensions, we consider any limitations you have within your business frontage, the benefit of more activation on the block, impacts to people walking and business access, potential future conflicts we can anticipate, and comments received during application review.

This graphic shows an example of a building frontage zone café extending past the business frontage space into the business frontage next door. The building frontage zone portion of the café is shown in pink and the extension is shown in red.

Figure 2. Outdoor Dining w/ Extensions
Frontage
Frontage Extension

If you intend to apply for a curbspace café (aka streatery), you’ll want to make sure that the curbspace parking space is a standard parking space. We cannot allow cafés in a transit or travel lane, bus zone, ADA-designated parking zone, or bike lane. If your preferred space is a loading zone, you may apply but approval will depend upon the loading and access needs of the blocks nearby.

Sometimes there is a protected bike lane in the area immediately off the sidewalk curb with on-street parking located adjacent to the bike lane rather than the sidewalk. In these instances, we still encourage you to apply to use the on-street parking as a curbspace café, but we will have to conduct extra review to ensure safety and mobility for everyone.  
If you’re interested in a furniture zone café, note what the curbspace is used for outside your proposed location (standard street parking, load zone, bus zone, etc). We do not allow furniture zone cafés next to bus zones, commercial vehicle loading zones, or designated vending zones. We may consider furniture zone cafés adjacent to ADA or passenger loading zones as an exception.  
In addition to the specific type of café (frontage, furniture, or curbspace) you consider, you’ll also want to review the site conditions. Important things to consider include: 

  • Location on the block: When you are located near an intersection or a mid-block crosswalk, it can be more challenging to permit a café, especially in the furniture zone or curbspace. We’ll work with you to make sure that there is good visibility for people walking and driving. There are required buffers from crosswalks and intersections, and we may limit the height or not allow overhead structures, including things like umbrellas, to ensure visibility. 
  • Street and sidewalk slope: It’s easier to build and use café spaces on flat sites. If you are on a sloped site, you may need to plan for extra expenses as additional engineering design will be needed for slopes over 5%. We prefer sidewalk cafés be located at the sidewalk grade, but you may propose a platform where slope is a challenge. 
  • Curb use: If you want to install a furniture zone or curbspace café, you’ll need to think about the adjacent curbspace use. Take note of the curbspace next to your proposed site.
  • Street fixtures: Look at the street fixtures on and near your proposed café space. This includes utility poles, hydrants, parking pay stations, signs, tree pits, bike racks, and other above-ground fixtures. Adequate buffers between the café space and any street fixtures or furniture will be required. We want to be sure these street fixtures can still function, be maintained, and are not in the way of where people will walk after your café is installed.
  • Utilities: There are a lot of utilities in our city streets! You should take note of any utility covers, boxes, and Fire Department Connections on buildings or in the street (fire hydrants). There are some types of utilities that you will not be able to cover with your café, whereas some may be OK to cover as long as access to the utility cover/box can be provided. Even when allowed to cover a utility access or line, be aware that you may have to move your café either temporarily or permanently to allow for access. This usually can be planned, but there are also potential emergencies that will require immediate café removal. 
  • Trees: Street trees can be very useful in offering shade and greenery for your outdoor café. However, we’ll also want to be sure that the café is designed in a way that won’t negatively impact the trees – for example, we won’t allow a design that would force people to walk through a tree pit or landscaped area. We discourage designs that would require tree pruning, and if you are proposing a café with a structure near a tree that will require pruning, you may be required to submit more details so we can review with our Urban Forestry colleagues. A separate Urban Forestry permit may also be required. 

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Step 3: Draw up your site plan 

Now get out your measuring tape! We need a site plan to be able to review your application, but it doesn’t need to be done by a professional as long as it includes the basic information about your proposed café.  

See Client Assistance Memo 2116 for additional information on Street Use site plan requirements, and a site plan template is available here. We also have prepared an example site plan to help you envision how to create this for your business.

For your application to be approved, you must meet the standards outlined in SDOT Director’s Rule 03-2023: Cafes in the Public Place. Here we will highlight some critical elements you’ll need to include: 

  • Footprint Dimensions: Indicate the length and width of the proposed outdoor seating area. The measurement must include anything that protrudes out from fencing, such as fence post bases or hanging planters.
  • Pedestrian Clear Zone: If you are proposing a frontage or furniture zone café, indicate the sidewalk width next to the outdoor seating area footprint to show where pedestrians will travel on the sidewalk.  
    • The minimum required pedestrian clear zone width is 6 feet in most neighborhoods
    • We require an 8-foot minimum width on Downtown Streets - see Streets Illustrated section 2.3). 
    • Streets Illustrated calls for wider minimum pedestrian clear zone dimensions depending upon street type and adjacent land use. You may be required to provide more width if you are in a pedestrian-designated zone or on streets with frequent transit and busy bus stops. We will work with you during the review process to identify if this is the case for your location.
    • Fence free cafes must have an additional 1 foot of pedestrian clear zone space when located on Downtown or Downtown Neighborhood Streets, in a pedestrian-designated zone, or adjacent to high-capacity transit zones (i.e., streets with frequent transit and busy bus stops).  
    • Sometimes, the sidewalk may be very wide without obstructions. That is great and will make siting your café simpler! However, in no case can you take more than half of the available sidewalk width for your café(s). Here’s a diagram to help show what we mean: 

In this graphic, an outdoor dining cafe setup has two tables, each with three chairs. The cafe, which measures six feet, is the same width as the pedestrian clear zone (shown here in light teal blue), which measures six feet as well.

Figure 3.1: Café Width Equal to pedestrain Clear Zone Width
In this graphic, an outdoor dining cafe setup has two tables, each with five chairs. The cafe, which measures eight feet, is the same width as the pedestrian clear zone (shown here in light teal blue), which measures eight feet as well.
Figure 3.2: Café Width Equal to Pedestrian Clear Zone Width 
In this graphic, an outdoor dining cafe setup has four sets of tables: two with two chairs each, and two with four chairs each. The cafe, which measures ten feet, is NOT the same width as the pedestrian clear zone (shown here in light teal blue), which measures six feet as well. This kind of outdoor dining setup is not permitted or permissible.
Figure 3.3: Café Width Greater than Pedestrian Clear Zone Width
Pedestrian Clear Zone
    • NOTE: If there is not enough space for the minimum clear zone, then you may be ineligible for this permit.  
  • Pedestrian straight path: The pedestrian clear zone (Figure 4.1) ensures people walking past your café have enough room. The pedestrian straight path (Figure 4.2) ensures their route is generally straight without sharp turns or zigzags. We determine if the path of travel is generally straight by measuring 25 feet past the corners of your café space and verifying there is a 3-foot-wide path for the full distance. If the pedestrian straight path goes into or near the corner clearance area (described below), we will also consider how the straight path lines up with curb ramp landings. 
The depiction shows the pedestrian clear zone, which is an unobstructed area for people to walk that abuts the entire length of the outdoor dining footprint and that is at least 6 feet in width but may be required to be wider.
Figure 4.1: Pedestrian Clear Zone
The depiction shows the pedestrian straight path, which is a 3-foot-wide straight path that lies within the pedestrian clear zone.  It runs 25 feet from the edge of the outdoor dining footprint in both directions.
Figure 4.2: Pedestrian Straight Path

The Pedestrian Straight Path’s path of travel (which is measured straight across yoru café dining setup) generally extends 25 feet past the corners of your café space. There should be a 3-foot-wide path for pedestrians to walk the full distance, regardless of where your café space extends or narrows. If the pedestrian straight path goes into or near the corner clearance area, we will also consider how the straight path lines up with curb ramp landings.

  • Corner clearance: Outdoor cafes must be sited to maintain an unobstructed corner clearance zone. The figure below depicts how we measure the corner clearance zone. It is the intersection of two sidewalks and extends on the sidewalk to whichever is farther: 5 feet from the intersection of the sidewalks or the far edge of the marked crosswalk or curb ramp. Furniture zone cafes must be at least 10 feet away from this area.
This figure shows the corner clearance zone where the boundaries are defined by a 5-foot setback from the edge of the intersection of the sidewalks. Outdoor dining is prohibited from being in this area.
Figure 5.1: Corner Clearance as 5' Setback from Intersection of Sidewalks
This figure shows the corner clearance zone where the boundaries are defined by the edge of the crosswalk. Outdoor dining is prohibited from being in this area.
Figure 5.2: Corner Clearance From Edge of Crosswalk
This figure shows the corner clearance zone where the boundaries are defined by the edge of the curb ramp. Outdoor dining is prohibited from being in this area.
Figure 5.3: Corner Clearance From Curb Ramp

Corner Clearance Zone

Intersection of Sidewalks

  • Clearance from other fixed objects: The sidewalk may include other objects such as light poles, trees, parking pay stations, hydrants, bike racks, etc. Please measure the distance from those objects to the edge of your footprint and include these dimensions on your plan.  There are specific clearances that apply to fixed objects, so we’ll work with you to determine what applies to your site. The intent of clearances is to ensure the fixed object remains operational and maintenance is feasible without having to move the outdoor café. Generally, if there is more than 5 feet between the object and the café footprint, it will be OK. 
  • Setbacks from alleys or driveways: If you are near an alley or driveway, measure the distance from the proposed café edge to the alley or driveway. For frontage zone cafes (against the building), you’ll need be 10 feet away from the edge of driveway/alley. For furniture zone and curbspace cafes, you’ll need to be 5 feet away from the alley or driveway apron.
  • Curbspace identifier numbers: If you're proposing a curbspace café in a paid parking area, please provide the curbspace identifier number(s) (use this map to find the numbers).  
  • Curb ramps: Most curb ramps are in the corner clearance area, but we also have some mid-block curb ramps. You’ll need to make sure your café area is fully outside of any curb ramp element, including the landing. See the below figure: 
The figure shows an example of a mid-block crosswalk where the outdoor dining footprint on the sidewalk does not interfere with the curb ramp landing area or inhibit pedestrian mobility.
Figure 6.1: Clearance from Curb Ramp
No outdoor dining elements are allowed within any curb ramp element, which includes the ramp, the ramp flares, and the ramp landing as shown in the inset graphic.
Figure 6.2: Clearance from Curb Ramp
Pedestrian Clear Zone
Curb Ramp Landing
Curb Ramp 
Curb Ramp Flare
Intersection Marking
  • Furniture zone clearances: For furniture zone cafes, we want to make sure people can get out of their cars and get to the sidewalk. To do this, we require: 
    • At least 3 feet of width between the café footprint and the face of curb. We may need to require a wider space if your café is located on a block without a designated ADA parking space or if you are adjacent to a passenger load zone or shuttle/charter bus zone. 
    • Adequate pass-through areas for people to get from parked cars to the sidewalk. Generally, cafes longer than 20 feet will need 4-foot-wide openings to provide a connection between the sidewalk and the curb. We may make exceptions based on the specific conditions, so we’ll work with you when you apply to determine what makes sense. 
       
  • Curbspace café clearances: When your café is located near an intersection or close to a crosswalk, it requires setbacks so people driving can see people walking. We may make exceptions based on the site-specific conditions near you, but in general you must provide the following setbacks:
    • Intersections without a traffic signal: you must be set back at least 30 feet from the approach to a crosswalk/curb ramp and 20 feet away from a crosswalk/curb ramp
    • Intersections with a traffic signal: you must be set back at least 20 feet from the approach to any crosswalk/curb ramp and 10 feet away from any crosswalk/curb ramp 
    • Crosswalks located in the middle of the block: you must be set back at least 20 feet from the approach to any crosswalk/curb ramp and 20 feet away from any crosswalk/curb ramp 
Curbspace café clearances at non-signalized intersections  This figure shows distances required between intersections to curbspace cafes at non-signalized intersections. Twenty feet is required away from the crosswalk and thirty feet is required as you approach a crosswalk.
Figure 7.1: Curbspace Café Clearance at Non-signalized Intersections
Curbspace café clearances at signalized intersections  This figure shows distances required between intersections to curbspace cafes at signalized intersections. Ten feet is required away from the crosswalk and twenty feet is required as you approach a crosswalk.
Figure 7.2: Curbspace Café Clearance at Signalized Intersections
Curbspace café clearances at mid-block crossings  This figure shows distances required between mid-block crossings to curbspace cafes. Twenty feet is required away and approaching the crosswalk.
Figure 7.3: Curbspace Café Clearance at Mid-Block Crossings
 

Curbspace Cafe Location

Intersection Markings

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Step 4: Consider your details and design 

Whew! Take a minute and congratulate yourself for making it through the siting requirements and finding a good location for your café! Now we’ll dig into what it will look like and go over specific details you’ll want to think about as part of your application. 

Overall, we want outdoor cafes to be designed for the urban environment, easy-to-assemble and remove, and as simple and open as possible. See more guidance in Section 6.1 of SDOT Director’s Rule 03-2023: Cafes in the Public Place

Now let’s get into the details! 

  • Exits: If you are near a building exit, you’ll need to keep a clear pathway between the sidewalk and the building exit. This should be either the width of the door or 44 inches, whichever is wider.
  • Aisles: Consider what type of furniture you plan to use in your café, and make sure the width will allow for aisle space for customers and servers to move around within the café itself.
  • ADA Requirements: The focus for our SDOT review is to ensure that the sidewalk and right-of-way around the outdoor café remain accessible and usable for people living with disabilities. This means we will review for remaining sidewalk width, surface condition, and fence or other boundary element design.

As a condition of the permit, outdoor cafes must comply with Title III of the ADA and that means providing equal opportunity for people with disabilities to enjoy the goods and services offered to everyone. Café owners must ensure they have compliant furniture that is connected via an accessible route within the café. We’ve prepared a guide to help you navigate the federal ADA requirements that café owners will need to follow.  

  • Fencing Details: Fencing is required for all curbspace cafes and cafes in the furniture zone and may be used for cafes next to the building. If you prefer a fence-free café next to the building, pedestrian diverters are required for ADA purposes (see below for more information on pedestrian diverters in the fence free café section).  

Here are some quick guidelines when selecting an appropriate fence: 

    • Platforms should be the minimum height necessary to meet the intent (i.e., the height needed for a curbspace café to meet the sidewalk), and generally no taller than 18 inches in height above the sidewalk or road grade
    • Platforms on slopes 5% or greater or over an areaway will require stamped plans from a licensed professional to be submitted
    • Design platforms to be load bearing and have railings to provide adequate safety
    • Platforms should be designed to be freestanding structures that rest on the street or sidewalk surface – we do not allow permanent attachments such as anchor bolts, although we will allow small pin bolts (see Figure 8.2 below). 
    • Platforms should be designed for easy removal
    • Platforms must be designed for outdoor use and have non-slip and weather-resistant walking surfaces. Also consider how the water on the deck will drain. Materials such as slatted lumber work well to allow rainwater to drain off the surface.
    • Consider maintenance and design to make it easy to maintain and clean the platform and the surface beneath the platform 
    • If you are approved to cover a utility access point, you’ll need an access panel to provide for access 
    • In the curbspace, you’ll need to provide for stormwater drainage to flow along the curb without obstruction. A pedestal support system for the platform frame allows rainwater to pass beneath the entire width of the platform. You must have at least a 6-inch horizontal gap between the curb and the posts of the frame and a minimum 2-inch vertical gap between the street surface and the bottom of the platform (see Figures 8.1, 8.3, and 8.4 below)
Platforms
This figure shows the minimum 6-inch horizontal gap needed between the curb and the frame posts. It also shows the ½ inch minimum gap between the sidewalk curb edge and the platform.
Figure 8.1: Drainage and Deck Gap
This figure shows anchors in the street surface. Pin bolts are allowed but anchor bolts are not.
Figure 8.2: Attaching to the Street
This figure shows the minimum 2-inch vertical drainage gap when the curb is greater than 2 inches in height.
Figure 8.3: Vertical Drainage Gap When Curb is GREATER than 2''
This figure shows the minimum 2-inch vertical drainage gap when the curb is less than 2 inches in height.
Figure 8.4: Vertical Drainage Gap When Curb is LESS than 2''
Platform Deck
Pedestals
Curb
Pin Bolt
Anchor

  • Overhead Structures: Let’s face it, Seattle can get rainy. But it’s still nice to be able to be outside! The pandemic showed us that Seattleites don’t mind eating outside even during our colder, wetter months of the year. We are continuing to allow overhead structures so businesses can keep outdoor café spaces active year-round. 
     
    When planning shade and weather protection options, consider existing amenities such as street trees and building awnings. These are great assets and may mean you don’t have to spend the time and money to install an additional structure. You could also supplement with patio umbrellas, provided there is at least 8 feet of vertical clearance where they overlap with the pedestrian clear zone. 

Still interested in having an overhead structure? Read on!  

    • Consider how your structure will fit into the streetscape and neighborhood. Minimal and simple designs that do not overly privatize public space are best. Planters, landscaping, and lighting can help make it a great space.
    • When you are proposing multiple spaces (such as a curbspace and a furniture zone café or a curbspace and a frontage zone café), we may limit the number of structures allowed or provide further design review as part of our process 
    • We allow a variety of types of overhead structures, including pop-up tents or canopies (maximum 400 square feet with walls or 700 square feet without walls), prefabricated or manufactured structures, or custom-built structures. 
    • Structures must be a maximum of one story in height 
    • Structures should be simple in design, durable, intended for outdoor use, and easy to assemble and disassemble
    • Make sure the structure doesn’t extend past your overall café footprint. It may have a roof overhang on the sidewalk side as long as the 8-foot vertical clearance is provided. 
    • Make sure all structures drain towards the street, not onto the sidewalk.
    • We understand that walls can help make the space more useful year-round, so we will allow transparent walls in between the fence and roof. We encourage walls that may be removed during the warmer, drier season. 
    • See SDOT Director’s Rule 03-2023 Section 6.5.3.11 for specifics on structural loading requirements. Depending upon your location, you may be able to follow our prescriptive criteria and not need to hire a licensed professional to prepare structural plans/calculations.  
  • Lighting & Heating: We allow lighting and heating to make cafes great spaces no matter what time of day or year it is! However, you may need additional permits from Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) (electrical) or Seattle Fire Department (SFD) (propane heat). Self-contained, low-voltage systems, such as solar or battery powered systems are allowed without any additional permitting.  
     
    The lighting you select must not flash, strobe, or otherwise be distracting to drivers and others in the surrounding area. We allow electrical cords or strings of lights to overhang the sidewalk if there is 10 feet of vertical clearance. However, please note that extension cords are generally not allowed by SDCI and SFD.  
     
    For heat, you may also work with SDCI to get permits for electric heat in your space. Propane heat requires SFD permits in most cases. You are not allowed to have propane heaters within 5 feet of any combustible material, so if you have an overhead weather structure or umbrellas, you won’t be able to also use standard propane heaters.  
  • Signage: Be aware that we may require that you post signage on your café. For curbspace cafes, SFD requires that the building address be posted on the street side of the café structure for ease of emergency response. We may also require that curbspace cafes affix regulatory signage such as parking signs to your structure. This must remain visible at all times. We may also require that you post signage describing that the outdoor café is public space and open outside of business hours. We do not allow advertising, logos, or promotional material on your outdoor café, though there is an exception to allow certain small signs related to your business if consistent with the Seattle sign regulations (SMC Title 23) and subject to approval.  

We also have some specifics that apply to certain types of cafes. If you are planning to have a Fence Free, Curbspace, or Seasonal Café, read on! 

  • Fence Free Cafes: Fence-free cafes are offered only for frontage zone cafes and may reduce your overall costs as no fencing is required – just the markers we provide you and a pedestrian diverter on each end of the space! Here are some specifics to help you decide if the fence-free café program is right for you:
    • You’ll need to hold a restaurant liquor license from the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board or not serve alcohol
    • You’ll need to provide table service or have staff dedicated to the area when it is in use
    • No platforms or structures are allowed
    • We’ll provide the SDOT markers for you to affix to the sidewalk and give you instructions on placing them
    • Pedestrian diverters help to ensure that your fence-free café is detectable to people who have low or no vision. Pedestrian diverters must be 30-42” in height and extend the width of the café footprint at 90 degrees out from the building. When your café isn’t in service, it’s great to push the pedestrian diverters flat against the building or bring them inside so the café space is open for people walking. 
The figure shows typical dimensions of a diverter. Typical height for diverters is 30-42 inches tall and they must extend the entire width of the cafe footprint.
Figure 9: Diverter Dimensions
Diverter
Café Footprint
  • Curbspace Cafes: Curbspace cafes are a great solution for businesses, often offering more space than sidewalks, particularly in constrained locations. We have some basics to consider when designing your space:
    • Our typical maximum length for a café in the curb is 40’ long (i.e., 2 standard parking stalls), including the wheel stops, where required. 
    • During our review, we will consider the effect of your proposed site on other uses of the curbspace. We want to avoid “leftover” spaces – for example, spaces between curbspace cafes that are too small to accommodate other uses. We may be able to authorize exceptions when we have determined adequate curbspace functions may be accommodated.  
This figure shows the typical maximum curbspace café dimension of 40 feet in length. In this figure, it shows that the maximum curbspace café footprint where two wheel stop buffers are required would be 34 feet with 3 feet in between the café footprint and the wheel stop buffer. It also shows the café footprint width is setback 1 foot from the edge of the travel lane.
Figure 10: Curbspace Café Maximum Dimensions
    • In most cases, wheel stop buffers and reflector posts are required to ensure visibility and help prevent people from parking too close to a café. The wheel stop must be at minimum 3 feet away from the edge of the outdoor café footprint. Sometimes, it may be desirable to place other elements in this area such as a bike rack, ADA ramp into the space, or an emergency access gap. If you propose this, we’ll work with you to consider if this is appropriate, given the block’s curbspace needs, and ensure there is adequate space between any element and vehicle overhangs.  
    • The Seattle Fire Department requires emergency access gaps between the street and the sidewalk at all times. Specifically, a minimum of one 5-foot opening free of any at-grade or overhead structures or objects is required every 50 feet along the block face.  
    • We require a 1-foot buffer between the edge of the travel lane (this includes bike lanes) to the café footprint. No overhangs are allowed within this buffer. Generally, this means cafes located in parallel parking locations will have a maximum width of 6 feet. A wider café may be possible on streets with angle parking.
    • Fencing generally will match what’s required in the “Fencing” section above. However, while we typically require fencing that is 50% transparent abutting pedestrian space, this is not required where the fencing abuts vehicle space. We also prefer fencing adjoining the sidewalk with designs that are even more transparent (greater than 50%) and/or may be removed outside of café hours to encourage public use. 
    • Generally, no additional barricades (such as water-filled jersey barriers) are required. However, we will review curbspace cafes and alert you if barricades will be required based on the street classification, speed, traffic volumes, or other factors.  
  • Seasonal Cafes: Seasonal cafes are an option if you just want to have an outdoor café space during the nicer time of year. They are authorized from April 1 – October 31. Fencing materials may be more temporary although they must still be adequately visible and meet cane detection requirements. For curbspace seasonal cafes, you’ll need to have an unbolted wheel stop and a reflective delineator post (i.e., candlestick post). Platforms and overhead design elements are discouraged for seasonal cafes, although easily removable structures, canopies, tents, and umbrellas will be considered.

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Step 5: Collect the required documents 

You’ll need the following documents with your application: 

  • A site plan as described in Step 3
  • Fencing details (if applying for a fenced café)
  • Pedestrian diverter details (if applying for a fence-free café)
  • Photo or conceptual image(s) of your site to help orient us to the street condition – it can be helpful to stand about 10 feet away from the proposed café footprint and take a photo of the proposed café area on several sides    
  • A letter of authorization (if the applicant is different from the owner or financially responsible party) 

Some additional materials may be submitted with your application if available, or we will expect them to complete your permit review process. These include: 

  • Plans stamped by a Washington State certified professional engineer or licensed architect for platforms or overhead structures, which may be required if not using our pre-approved plans or the prescriptive criteria in the Director’s Rule, or in some cases based on site conditions (such as on a steep slope). Not sure if you need this? We’ll let you know if we require stamped plans during our review process.
  • Historic/Landmark District Certificate of Approval (if in a historic district
  • A Certificate of Liability Insurance and a separate endorsement document naming the City of Seattle as an additional insured. You can find more information on this requirement in Client Assistance Memo 2102. For cafes with alcohol service, please note $2 million Combined Single Limit per occurrence is required. 

Optional: Meet with us 

You may find it helpful to schedule a coaching session with a Public Space Management (PSM) staff member. One of our permit reviewers will help you determine if sidewalk width, surrounding conditions, and existing obstructions in front of your food service establishment will allow for a café. 

To get coaching, email us at SDOTPermits@seattle.gov or call (206) 684-5253 and request a virtual coaching session. Please include your name, phone number, email address, and your question. 

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Step 6: Apply online! 

When you are ready to apply, navigate to the Seattle Services Portal. Note: if you've never used the Portal before, you'll need to register and set up an account first. See this helpful article or video on how to register, and this article on how to activate your account once you’ve registered.  

Once you are logged in, follow the steps below: 

  • Under "Create New" select "Permits-Street Use
  • If you wish to apply for a long-term, renewable, year-round permit, navigate to and select the "Long Term Use" and "Private Structures" record type.  
    • When later prompted to input “Use Code Description,” choose “sidewalk café,”  “curbspace café (non-paid parking),” or “curbspace café (paid parking).”
  • If you wish to apply for a seasonal (April 1 through October 31) permit, navigate to and select the “Short Term Use” and “Seasonal Business Uses” record type.
    • When later prompted to input “Use Code Description," choose “seasonal sidewalk café,” “seasonal curbspace café (non-paid parking),” or “seasonal curbspace café (paid parking).”
  • When inputting your “Project Description,” include details on how the space will be used, including the anticipated hours of operation, periods of use during the year, and whether any liquor will be sold or consumed in the café. 

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Step 7: Post a Public Notice 

Once your complete application has been submitted, we will send you a public notice form. This public notice must be posted in a location where it is highly visible from the sidewalk next to the food service establishment. This form must be posted for a 10-business-day public comment period. We will also post the notice on our Public Comment page.  

During the public notice period, any interested person may submit written comments to us for consideration during the application review. 

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Step 8: Application Review and Site Visit 

Depending on the complexity of the project, the review time can take 8 weeks or more. You can check the status of your permit online through the Seattle Service Portal. Read more about our Street Use Permit Process and how to check on status here. You can also find current Street Use permitting timelines here. We will review the application and may contact you either to request additional information or to request corrections. As part of our review, we may visit the site to ensure the layout meets standards and verify that the public notice has been posted here. We will review the application and may contact you either to request additional information or to request corrections. As part of our review, we may visit the site to ensure the layout meets standards and verify that the public notice has been posted.  

We will also determine if additional secondary reviews or permits are necessary based on your project. For example, you may need review by the following SDOT teams (and there may be hourly review rates invoiced during the application process): 

  • Curbspace – if you propose a curbspace location, our curbspace team must review it to ensure that the remaining curbspace for that block is useable and adequate access is provided. They also look to see if signs or parking meters need to be moved to accommodate your café. Note that the applicant is responsible for the cost of moving any infrastructure.
  • Transportation Operations – our Operations reviewers help ensure that café designs are located at appropriate distances from crosswalks and intersections. Their review isn’t always required, but if you are proposing to be closer to an intersection than is standard or have a unique design, their review is required.
  • Construction Hub – If you are within a designated Construction Hub, we will route your application to this team. They help ensure construction is coordinated to keep everyone moving in busy construction areas of the city.
  • Structures – Our Street Use engineers will review proposed platform and overhead structure design.
  • Urban Design – Our Urban Design team helps review unique fence and overhead structure design to make sure it meets the intent of our design standards found in Section 6 of our Café Director’s Rule. 

SDCI may also need to review the outdoor café application and will typically do so by requiring you to apply for an SDCI permit. We’ll let you know if that’s the case. This usually only happens for very large cafes, where the only exit for the café is through the building, when the café or structures will be attached to the building, or when the café is partially in the right-of-way and partially on private property.  

Depending upon the means and methods needed to install your café, you may also need a Street Use Right-of-Way Construction Permit. This may be required if you need to stage material or equipment in the right-of-way, or work will impact mobility (such as closing the sidewalk) during your installation process. While this is a separate permit, we do not require a separate application and will review and issue both permits together. If you haven’t submitted the documents required for that application initially, your reviewer will request them during the review process.

After the public notice period is complete, we’ve conducted our review, and finished any corrections/review cycles, we will either: 

  • Approve the application;
  • Approve the application with modifications/conditions; or
  • Deny the application 

We may add specific permit conditions to address concerns or items that came up during your review process. We may condition permits to address design, placement, hours and dates of operation/occupation, maintenance expectations, impacts associated with the café activity, or to specify limits or allowances for the café use. 
 
We can require repairs that may be needed to improve the conditions near the café in order to accommodate the use, such as repairs to the sidewalk conditions.  
We will also require that you sign an indemnity agreement during the course of the review, which is essentially a contractual agreement in which the City is indemnified from all liability in connection with your outdoor café. We will prepare and provide this to you during the review process. In very limited cases, we may also require that you provide a surety bond as well. Make sure you also hold the required insurance; you can find the details in Client Assistance Memo 2102
 
We will inform you of our decision and post that decision on our Public Comment page. There is an opportunity for any party (i.e., the applicant, a member of the public) to request a reconsideration of our permit decision within 10 calendar days of the decision. 

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Step 9: Permit Issuance and Inspection 

Before we can issue your permit, you must pay your issuance fee.  

To learn more about current fees, visit our How to Estimate and Pay Permit Fees page. The issuance fee covers the PSM review time spent on the application, but you may also receive invoices for additional secondary review and inspections. 

Once your permit is issued, it will be uploaded to the Seattle Services Portal. You should review the permit and approved documents, paying close attention to the approved site plan and conditions.  Need help finding and printing your permit? Please see this help article.  

Now that you have your issued permit, you may install as directed! If you haven’t installed within six months of permit issuance, we may close your permit for inactivity. 

Before you start construction, here’s a few helpful tips: 

  • Remember that project notification is required for permits – check out Client Assistance Memo 2117 to ensure you properly notify affected parties ahead of any construction activity. 
  • Make sure you have non-paid or paid parking notification and permits per our Temporary No Parking Permits website if you need to use curbspace for installation activities. 
  • If you will do work near trees, you are responsible for ensuring they are protected during construction. If you are near trees, we will include specific conditions on your permit to help direct next steps in working with Urban Forestry.
  • Make sure to purchase your wheel stops and reflective delineator posts for curbspace cafes early! You’ll want wheel stops that are 4 feet long and we recommend ones made of recycled rubber. 
    • For long-term cafes: Bolt-mount wheel stops. Install 36-inch-tall, cylindrical delineator posts. Posts must be white with reflective striping. These should surface mount with a pin-lock base and be attached to the street with either an adhesive pad or epoxy kit. 
    • For seasonal cafes: Place wheel stops without mounting and use candlestick posts or attach cylindrical delineator posts with an adhesive pad/epoxy (no bolting allowed).  

We will conduct inspections to confirm that the outdoor dining setup matches your approved permit and plan. Inspections are billed at an hourly rate and will be invoiced separately from other permit fees. 

You must store the permit on site and have it available to view upon request. 

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Step 10: Permit renewal and maintenance  

Long-term outdoor cafe permits are renewed yearly. There is a yearly permit renewal fee. See our Street Use Fee Schedule PDF on this page for more information. If the use is in good standing, our permitting system will automatically renew the permit and invoice the permittee.     

Seasonal outdoor cafe permits expire on October 31st of the permitted year. If you wish to set up a seasonal café the following year, you must submit a new permit application.    
 
You are expected to maintain the permitted use according to your approved plan and permit, including complying with all permit conditions. Permittees must comply with the operational requirements established in Section 8.5 of SDOT Director's Rule 03-2023, including keeping the sidewalk clean and safe for pedestrians. We will conduct inspections to ensure the use remains as approved. In the event a sidewalk café does not meet the terms and conditions of the permit, we may issue penalties including additional inspection charges or citations.   

For proposed changes to your café, you can request a permit revision through the Seattle Services Portal. If the change is to the permit applicant/business ownership, but no other changes are proposed, the new owner must apply for a new outdoor café permit. In the application, note “transfer of ownership” in the project description field.    
  
It’s important to understand that all Street Use permits are temporary in nature and do not grant you permanent rights to occupy the public right-of-way. We may revoke permits according to Seattle Municipal Code 15.04.070. We may require that you remove your café permanently to accommodate other uses of the right-of-way, such as when new transportation, utility, or development projects are planned that will not allow for continued private use. It’s important to be aware of the temporary nature of right-of-way permitting and make sure you consider that when deciding what to build. We do not reimburse for the costs of removal, and you are responsible for any restoration required to the right-of-way. (Note that a Right-of-Way Construction permit may be required for removal and restoration).
 
In the case of a major public event, such as a parade, we may ask your business to temporarily remove your café with at least 24 hours-notice. In an emergency, we may immediately clear the café without notice to preserve public health and safety. If this should occur, we will not be responsible for damages.  
We are also able to modify the conditions of your permit if necessary for safety, traffic management, or any other public-use purpose as long as we provide written notice 10 days before modifying the Street Use permit.  

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Transportation

Greg Spotts, Director
Address: 700 5th Ave, Suite 3800, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 34996, Seattle, WA, 98124-4996
Phone: (206) 684-7623
684-Road@seattle.gov

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The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is on a mission to deliver a transportation system that provides safe and affordable access to places and opportunities for everyone as we work to achieve our vision of Seattle as a thriving, equitable community powered by dependable transportation.