Outdoor Permitting for Resturants, Food Trucks and Carts, and Retail Stores

The Washington State Department of Health has approved King County’s application to transition into Phase 2 of Governor Inslee’s Safe Start plan which will allow some businesses and other activities to increase operations under strict public health guidance.

We know that many business owners are eager to re-open or expand their operations, so we’ve gathered information regarding the different permit options that are available and published them here.

Outdoor spaces on the sidewalk or street

If you're interested in using space on the sidewalk or street in front of your business to add a temporary café or additional retail space or if you are a food truck owner who would like to try out new vending locations, you will need a Street Use permit from the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).

FREE temporary permits and new, flexible permit options for sidewalk cafes, merchandise displays, and food vending

SDOT created FREE temporary permit options to expand our support for restaurants, retail stores, food trucks, and other vendors. These permits are good for up to six months from the date of issuance. 

Although the temporary permits are free, the cost of materials to set up your outdoor cafe or merchandise display will be the responsibility of the business. Materials might include but are not limited to: renting or purchasing No Park signs for outdoor cafes in the curb space, temporary fencing, tables, and chairs. 

  • Temporary outdoor café: With this permit, restaurants can have a temporary outdoor café either on the sidewalk or in the curb space adjacent to their business frontage. In certain cases, we will permit cafes to extend beyond the business frontage.

    • To qualify for the temporary cafe permit option, the proposed café should be:
      • Fence free (abutting building) or with temporary fencing that provides cane detectability
      • Outdoor cafes must be taken down and stored on private property when the restaurant is closed
      • Businesses applying for temporary curb space cafés will also need to apply for a Temporary No Parking Permit  from SDOT and rent or purchase a No Parking barricade (T-39 sign) from a barricade company. A printable No Park sign with the dates of your permit will be made available to you once you apply for the Temporary No Parking Permit that you can print out and place on your barricade. It is recommended that the No Parking barricades are up 72 hours before you plan to set up, but they must be up at least 24 hours ahead to be enforceable. It is the business' responsibility to call a tow company if a car is parked in your No Park zone.
      • Not located in a loading zones (for curb space locations)
    • Restaurants that would like a café in other locations or with more permanent installations can still apply for SDOT's existing sidewalk café or streatery permit.

  • Temporary merchandise displays: SDOT want to make it easier for businesses to promote social distancing for customers while increasing their ability to serve customers. With this permit, a business can set up merchandise displays adjacent to their store or in the curb space.

    • To qualify for the temporary merchandise permit option, the display should be:
      • Removed when the business is closed
      • Not located in a loading zone (for curb space locations)
      • Not located on a principal arterial (for curb space locations)
    • With this permit, we are also allowing sales to occur outside instead of inside the store.  
    • Businesses applying for temporary merchandise displays in the curb space  will also need to apply for a Temporary No Parking Permit  from SDOT and rent or purchase a No Parking barricade (T-39 sign) from a barricade company. A printable No Park sign with the dates of your permit will be made available to you once you apply for the Temporary No Parking Permit that you can print out and place on your barricade. It is recommended that the No Parking barricades are up 72 hours before you plan to set up, but they must be up at least 24 hours ahead to be enforceable. It is the business' responsibility to call a tow company if a car is parked in your No Park zone.
  • Temporary Vending Permits: SDOT is offering a temporary vending permit for up to six months that will allow greater flexibility for vendors to try out new sites and go to where people are located during the pandemic. This option is available for both trucks and carts vending food, flowers, or publications.

    • To qualify for the temporary vending option, the vending should be:
      • Up to a four-hour block of time daily (such as between 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. for the lunch hour)
      • If vending food, not within 50 feet of a food service business, unless there is support from adjacent food businesses
      • Not located where an adjacent business is proposing to use the curb space (for curb space locations)
      • Not located in a loading zone (for curb space locations).
    • Additionally, SDOT will allow more than two vendors per block with this permit type.
    • Vendors who would like to vend in other locations or with a traditional year-long permit can still apply for SDOT of our existing vending permit options.

Here's how SDOT is making it easier to get these permit types!

No permitting fees and modified application requirements

To make it easier to take advantage of these new permit types SDOT:

  • Eliminated permit and review fees

  • Waived daily fees associated with reserving parking spaces for outdoor cafés, merchandise displays, and vending in the curb space

Streamlined timelines

For all these new permit types, SDOT's goal is to expedite and prioritize application reviews. The review time will depend on the complexity of the application, the volume of permit requests, and an applicant's preparedness, resulting in varying approval times.

Updated public notification requirements

To issue our permits faster, SDOT is not requiring the normal two-week public comment period for new temporary outdoor cafes and vendors. Instead, applicants for these permits will be required to notify nearby residents and businesses of the proposed temporary café, merchandise display, or vending location before they start operations.

What else do I need to know?

Due to considerations like sidewalk width, not all locations will be eligible for these permit options; however, SDOT is happy to explore other opportunities, like free table-and-chairs permit, with business owners.

How do I apply for these permits?

Submit your permit application online using the Seattle Services Portal. Visit SDOT's temporary permit webpage for step by step instructions on how to apply!

Outdoor spaces on private property

If you are interested in establishing or expanding a new outdoor space for business activities on your property, you may need a permit from the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI). Any dedicated space for outdoor business activities, such as outdoor dining, outdoor sales, or vending, must be accessible to people with disabilities and not block required exits from existing buildings.

You might not need a permit if:

Your outdoor space meets all the standards in the Land Use Code, such as:

  • Your outdoor space will be located at least 50 feet from a property in a residential zone. You can check the zoning of nearby properties here.
  • Your outdoor space will not impact the drive aisle for your parking lot.
  • You are not erecting a tent or other structure.

Permit options for outdoor spaces on private property

If you do need a permit for your new outdoor space, these are the fastest ways to get approval:

  • Permanent Use Permit: Request this permit if your outdoor area is located more than 50 feet from a residential zone and will meet all other standards in the City’s Land Use Code. This permit will allow you to use your new outdoor space permanently.
  • Temporary Use Permit: Request this permit if your outdoor area is located less than 50 feet from a residential zone or if you will need flexibility from other Land Use Code standards. This permit will allow you to use your outdoor space for four weeks, but you can continue to reapply.
  • Intermittent Use Permit: Request this permit if your outdoor area is located less than 50 feet from a residential zone or if you will need flexibility from other Land Use Code standards, and if you only need to use the outdoor space one or two days each week. This permit is good for a full year.

How much do these permits cost and how long do they take to get?

These permit options can take up to a few weeks to process and, in most cases, will cost approximately $350.

To support economic recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic, SDCI is expediting review of permits for outdoor use on private property and will prioritize permits in underserved neighborhoods. We recommend that any interested businesses submit their applications as soon as possible.

How do I apply for these permits?

Submit your permit application online using the Seattle Services Portal.

Refer to Tip Sheet 103 on how to prepare a basic site plan for your permit application. Your site plan will need to show the dimensions of your proposed outdoor area, show how close the space is to property lines, and include labels for any tables/chairs.

Need help or have questions?

If you have questions about your permit options or need help with preparing an application, please call us at 206-684-8090 or e-mail us at oed@seattle.gov for free help and technical assistance.