Sidewalk Cafés

What We Do

We encourage the installation of sidewalk seating to increase public space use, enjoyment, and safety. With proper design and management, seating can also be a great way to encourage walking, add vitality to the street, and promote local economic development. Sidewalk cafés and tables-and-chairs setups are integral forms of right-of- way seating.

Specifically, we:

  • Guide people through the design and review process for sidewalk cafés
  • Facilitate the permitting process for:
    • Sidewalk cafés - businesses may provide table service and may serve alcohol, with the appropriate license issued by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board; seating is for the exclusive use of the business and, unless the business is participating in the fence-free pilot, requires a railing.
    • Tables and chairs - businesses may place tables and chairs in the sidewalk space adjacent to their business; no table service may be provided and seating is open to the public

As long as sufficient pedestrian clearance is provided, you may situate your sidewalk café in a variety of locations, including directly in front of the sponsoring business, in the center of large sidewalks, abutting the curb, or in a plaza. For more detail on required clearances, please see the diagram provided in our sidewalk café permits information sheet.

For information on converting a parking space near your business into a public or customer seating area, please visit our Parklets and Streateries page.

Program Goals

The sidewalk café program seeks to:

  • Ensure safety and mobility of the traveling public
  • Increase the vibrancy of our streets, sidewalks, and public spaces
  • Support economic development in business districts by expanding seating options for patrons

What's New

We are offering a fence-free design option for sidewalk cafés!

A recent rule 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 and FAQ for more information.

Diagram no diverter

Tables and Chairs Permits

A "Tables and Chairs" permit allows a business to set out tables and chairs on the sidewalk immediately adjacent to the business. These are open for use by both customers and the 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.

To apply for a "Tables and Chairs" permit, the following materials are required:

  1. A Public Space Permit
  2. An application-review deposit. Please see the current Street Use fee schedule for current hourly rates. Please be aware that the review fees are an estimate of how much time we anticipate it will take to review your application, and we may need to assess additional review fees depending upon the completeness of the application and complexity of the review process.
  3. Site plan showing dimensions of the tables and chairs as well as any additional proposed elements, existing street installations (trees, signs, utilities), and available pedestrian clearance. See Client Assistance Memo 2503, Section VI. B. Sidewalk Cafe Standards.
  4. Insurance documentation. See Client Assistance Memo 2102.
  5. A letter of authorization confirming that this is a food-service business.
  6. If the seating area will be in a designated historic district, a Certificate of Approval from the appropriate community board or commission is required before applying. See Historic District designations.

If approved, a permit fee will be assessed when you obtain your permit. This covers the first year of your permit. You will be invoiced annually thereafter.

Sidewalk Café Permits

The requirements for a sidewalk café permit are similar to those for a "Tables and Chairs" permit, with a few additions. The following is a list of the required information and documentation you'll need to apply for a sidewalk café permit:

  1. A Public Space Permit
  2. An application-review deposit. Please see the current Street Use fee schedule for current hourly rates. Please be aware that the review fees are an estimate of how much time we anticipate it will take to review your application, and we may need to assess additional review fees depending upon the completeness of the application and complexity of the review process.
  3. Site plan showing dimensions of the proposed sidewalk cafe as well as any additional proposed elements, available pedestrian clearance, and a fencing delineation plan. See Director's Rule 4-2011 and Client Assistance Memo 2503, Section VI. B. Sidewalk Cafe Standards.
  4. Insurance documentation. See Client Assistance Memo 2102.
  5. A letter of authorization confirming that this is a food-service business.
  6. If the café will be in a designated historic district, a Certificate of Approval from the appropriate community board or commission is required before applying. See Historic District designations.

Note that platforms and elevated structures in the right of way are discouraged, and are only permitted where topography (8 percent grade or more) is a concern. Platforms require additional application review and fees.

If approved, a permit fee and current per-square-foot fee will be assessed when the permit is issued. This covers the first year of the café permit. You will be invoiced annually thereafter.

Modeled on the sidewalk seating used in the many European cities famous for their café culture, this fence-free pilot allows Seattle restaurants to integrate their sidewalk cafés with adjacent public space, and improve customer movement in and around the café area.

Who can apply to the fence-free sidewalk café pilot program?

Eligible businesses must:

  • Hold a restaurant liquor license for their establishment or not serve alcohol at all
  • Provide table service within the café space
  • Have a dedicated attendant, wait staff, or server in the outside service area when in use
  • Be able to locate the sidewalk café directly against their building (if serving alcohol)

The following are not eligible for the pilot:

  • Curbside cafés serving alcohol
  • Streateries
  • Businesses seeking fence-free sidewalk cafés on platform structures
  • Establishments with other forms of liquor licenses (e.g. taverns, breweries, wineries, nightclubs, beer gardens).

Please note that meeting minimum criteria does not guarantee entry into the pilot. Site conditions, such as insufficient sidewalk space to accommodate a café, may cause a business to be ineligible to participate in this pilot.

How do I apply to participate in the pilot program?

The fence-free pilot permit application process is similar to the existing sidewalk café permit process. Please refer to SDOT's Client Assistance Memo 2503 on Sidewalk Café Permits for a comprehensive list of requirements. All application requirements remain consistent with the pilot program, with three differences:

  • Instead of submitting a fence design, provide a site plan showing the location of the pavement markers and any optional elements, such as diverters or planters.
  • Liquor license documentation is required. Provide a copy of your Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board issued restaurant license to ensure that your business is eligible.
  • A description of diverters or additional elements is optional, but may prove helpful to processing your application. If your business will be using a diverter or other elements such as planters, provide a detailed description about what you plan to use, including proposed dimensions, appearance, material, and approximate weight of the elements. This description can be provided in the form of photos or drawings.

Do you have other questions about the program or how to apply? Check out our program Fact Sheet and FAQ.

If you would like to request more information, or inquire about participating in the pilot, please contact Ellie Smith at ellie.smith@seattle.gov or (206) 733-9707.

View recently submitted and approved sidewalk café applications.

Public notices of these applications are posted in a prominent place at each of the proposed locations and are clearly visible from the adjacent sidewalk. The notices must remain posted throughout the comment period and at least 10 business days after the permit is issued. The notice form includes detailed information on the proposed sidewalk café, comment period dates, and an explanation of how the public can comment on the pending application and request a review or reconsideration of a permit decision.

The downloadable excel spreadsheet is updated every Monday and Thursday afternoon.

Written comments concerning Street Use permit applications must be postmarked or emailed to SDOT no later than 10 business days after the first day of the public notice period.

Please send your comments by letter or email to:

Seattle Department of Transportation
Attn: Public Space Management Program
PO Box 34996
Seattle, WA 98124-4996

OR

Email: PublicSpace@seattle.gov

Please include the permit number, your name and contact information, and the specific reason for your comment concerning an application.

After a public notice period has ended, SDOT will decide to approve, modify, or deny a Street Use permit application. Any person may request a review or reconsideration of a decision made by SDOT. This written request must be sent to the SDOT Director within 10 calendar days of the date of the SDOT decision (SMC 15.04.112). The request must identify the decision for which review or reconsideration is requested, grounds for objecting to the decision based on City standards, and the specific remedy being proposed. The Director will designate a review officer who will make a recommendation to the Director. The Director may, at his or her discretion, stay implementation of a decision pending review or reconsideration. The Director's decision on review or reconsideration is final.

A request for review or reconsideration should be submitted to:

Director of Transportation
Seattle Department of Transportation
700 Fifth Avenue, Suite 3800
P.O. Box 34996
Seattle, WA 98124-4996

With a copy sent to:

Division Director
Street Use
700 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2300
P.O. Box 34996
Seattle, WA 98124-4996