Sidewalk Cafés

How to Apply

You can apply for a permit on the Seattle Services Portal. Use the button on the right to sign in!

Under Create New select "Permits-Street Use" and navigate to and select the "Long Term Use" and "Private Structures/Uses" record type. Select the "Public Amenity" use type. 

Required Documents

  • Site plan (11"x17" preferred), including a detail of the proposed tables and chairs. You must meet the standards outlined in Director's Rule 02-2019 for your application to be approved.

A blank 11x17" site plan template

  • Photo or conceptual image
  • 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.

Café Permit

A café permit allows a food service establishment to provide table service within a designated seating area on the sidewalk, curb space (this type of café is known as a streatery), or other public space. Alcohol may be served if approved by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board. Cafés require a permanent form of demarcation, which can be fencing, planters, or pavement markers. Unlike a Tables and Chairs Permit, a Sidewalk Café Permit allows the business to secure exclusive seating for their patrons.

You can apply for a permit on the Seattle Services Portal. Click the button on the right to login! If approved, a permit fee and current per-square-foot fee will be assessed when the permit is issued per the Street Use Fee Schedule. For cafés in the curb space (streateries), an additional parking replacement fee will also be required. This covers the first year of the café permit. You will be invoiced annually thereafter. 

How to Apply

Step 1: Review sidewalk café standards and draw your site plan!

Before you apply, you'll need to develop your site plan. For your application to be approved, you must meet the standards outlined in Director's Rule 02-2019. The site plan (11"x17" preferred) should show the elevation and dimensions of the proposed café and any additional elements, available pedestrian clear zone dimension, other relevant setbacks and clearances,  a fencing delineation plan and details (if applying for a fenced café), and details for the diverter design (if applying for a fence-free café).

Applicants interested in a streatery/curb space café must provide a plan from a professional engineer or licensed architect assuring compliance with the seating platform design standards in Section 6.5.4  of the Director's Rule and the Americans with Disabilities Act Titles II and III. Please be aware that we discourage platforms and elevated structures in the right-of-way, particularly on the sidewalk. We will approve them only when necessary for site-leveling or a purpose benefiting the public. Refer to Section 6.5 of the Director's Rule for more information.

A blank 11x17" site plan template

Step 2: Collect the required documents

In addition to your site plan, you'll need:

  • A photo of your site or conceptual image.        
  • A Certificate of Insurance. Please see CAM 2102: Certificate of Liability Insurance 
    • Note: cafés serving alcohol are required to have $2 million in insurance in either Liquor Liability or Umbrella coverage.)
  • A letter of authorization (if applicant is different from the owner or Financially Responsible Party)
  • A description of 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.
  • If the seating area will be in a designated historic district, a Certificate of Approval from the appropriate community board or commission is required. Check out the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Historic Districts page for a list of designated historic districts.
  • If the proposal includes a platform, SDOT approval will require additional review time, application fees, application requirements (including an indemnity agreement and a stamped plan from a professional engineer or licensed architect, unless otherwise approved by the Director of Transportation). See section below specific to café platforms.
  • If the proposal includes an overhead structural component, applicants must submit a plan stamped by a registered professional engineer or licensed architect, unless otherwise approved by the Director of Transportation. The stamp must be accompanied by a statement confirming that the overhead structure conforms to the Seattle Building Code, and other applicable regulations.    

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. Our PSM group is located at:

Seattle Municipal Tower
700 Fifth Ave, Floor 23
Seattle, WA

To get coaching, you may either stop by our permit counter or schedule a time with a permit reviewer, e-mail us at publicspace@seattle.gov.

Step 3: Apply!

You can apply for a permit on the Seattle Services Portal. Click the button on the right to login!

Under Create New select "Permits-Street Use" and navigate to and select the "Long Term Use" and "Private Structures/Uses" record type. 

Proceed to provide location, contact, and project descriptions and details. On the Use Code Description, you will select the type of café you are proposing:

  • Sidewalk café
  • Streatery (curb space cafés in paid or non-paid parking)

Note: if the owner is not the financially responsible party or the applicant, a Letter of Authorization will be required. Proposed platforms and structures in the right-of-way in association with a café require additional application review and fees. 

Step 4: 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 on the project to us for consideration during the application review.

Step 5: Application Review and Site Visit

We will review the application and may contact you either to request or to correct any information. As part of our review, we will visit the site to ensure the layout meets standards and verify that the public notice has been posted. We may require you to repair portions of any damaged sidewalk, if applicable.

Step 7: Permit Decision

After the public notice period and our staff review are complete, we will either:

  • Approve the application
  • Approve the application with modifications
  • Deny the application

Our decision will be posted for ten (10) business days on our Public Comment page. 

Step 8: Pay your permit fees

Before we can issue your permit, you must pay the following fees:

  • Issuance fee; and
  • Occupation fee (per square foot charge)

To learn more about current Occupation Fees, visit our How to Estimate and Pay Permit Fees page. Additional review and inspection fees will be assessed and billed separately.

The sidewalk café cannot be installed until all applicable fees have been collected and an approved Street Use Permit has been issued. The sidewalk café permit must be stored on site and available to view upon request.

Note: Construction Use permits may be required in addition to your Public Space permit. Your permit reviewer will inform you if one is required. 

Step 9: Set up your new sidewalk cafe and enjoy! 

All Street Use permits are wholly of a temporary nature and can be revoked by us given a 30-day notice, per SMC 15.04.070. Permittees  must comply with the operational requirements established in Section 8.4 of the Director's Rule including keeping the sidewalk clean and safe for pedestrians. In the event that a sidewalk café does not meet the terms and conditions of the permit, we may issue penalties including additional inspection charges or citations.

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. A new permit is required if a business is sold or if a new business will operate the space, unless a permit transfer is approved. A permit amendment is needed if site conditions have changed or if you want to make changes to the café dimensions. You can propose an amendment through the Seattle Services portal by selecting Make Changes on the permit record. Permit amendments will incur additional review and modification fees. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why did we update café standards, and what does it mean for me?

In fall 2019, we updated the rules and regulations detailing how we manages sidewalk cafés, including Seattle Municipal Code Chapter 15.16 and the associated Director's Rule. The new standards expand café opportunities for businesses by right-sizing regulations and formalizing different design options, while also ensuring that we are meeting the mobility and access needs of our growing city. New applications will be reviewed based on the updated requirements that went effective November 3, 2019. Existing cafés will continue to renew annually. However, if site conditions have changed since the original permit issuance, modifications to the café and amendments to the permit may be necessary to stay in compliance.

What type of café should I apply for?

There are three common types of cafés,  based on where in the public place they are located: curb space café (also known as streateries), furniture zone café, and frontage zone café. We can also locate cafés in alleys, plazas, and other alternative locations in the public place. Note that fence-free design is currently only considered for furniture zone cafés.Each of these café types have specific siting requirements, design standards, and in some cases application requirements to respond to the specific needs associated with where they are located in the public place. The Director's Rule  provides detailed siting and design standards for each of these café types. 

What happened to the fence-free pilot?

We introduced a fence-free pilot in 2016 to improve customer movement in and around the café; promote a more open-air dining experience for patrons; integrate outdoor dining with adjacent public space to reduce the perception of privatizing the sidewalk; and reduce costs for permittees. This type of café has been formalized as part of the program update in fall 2019. Please refer to Section 6.6 of the Director's Rule , where we have included detailed siting and design requirements for fence-free cafés. For permittees that took part in the pilot and had their café permitted with a fence-free design prior to the 2019 program update, SDOT staff will reach out to you to ensure your café meets the new requirements, like the new diverter requirement. 

Are cafés required to provide ADA access? 

Café permittees are solely responsible for complying with Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and all other federal and state accessible design standards. Permittees are obligated to offer accommodations that provide an equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities to enjoy the goods and services offered to everyone.   We review café applications to determine that the sidewalk and public space around the café is accessible and usable for all members of the public, including those living with disabilities. The café permittee has independent obligations under Title III of the ADA. Additionally, since streateries/curb space cafés serve a public space function when not operated by the business, permittees must also comply with Title II of the ADA.As a condition of the Street Use café permit, we require that all permittees comply with Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). More information can be found in Section 7.2 of the Director's Rule.  

What are the requirements for cafés with platforms?

We will consider platforms as part of your café design only when necessary for site-leveling or a purpose benefiting the public. In general, we discourage platforms on the sidewalk. In those cases where we will consider a platform, applicants must submit additional application materials, including:

An indemnity agreement as prepared by SDOT for approved seating platform permit applications. The indemnity agreement must be signed and notarized by the property owner and recorded with King County Records prior to permit issuance;

  • If the platform is 18 inches tall or higher at any point, as measured from the public place surface, review and approval from the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) is required.
  • If the entire platform is under 18 inches at all points, as measured from the public place surface, the following requirements apply:
    • A plan stamped by a registered professional engineer or licensed architect, unless otherwise approved by the Director of Transportation. The stamp must be accompanied by a statement confirming that the seating platform conforms to SBC, and other applicable regulations including, but not limited to, SBC Section 1607.8.1 Handrails and Guards; SBC Chapter 11 Accessibility; and International Code Council A117.1;
    • A letter stamped by a registered professional engineer or licensed architect to SDOT following permit issuance. The stamp must be accompanied by a statement confirming that the seating platform was installed according to the SBC, Chapter 11, Accessibility, and other applicable regulations including, but not limited to, SBC Section 1607.8.1 Handrails and Guards; SBC Chapter 11 Accessibility; and International Code Council A117.1. The letter must be submitted to SDOT within one week of the seating platform being installed.

If the proposed seating platform is over an areaway, the applicant must submit an additional structural analysis by a registered professional engineer of the load capacity of the sidewalk and areaway;   Refer to Section 6.5 of the Director's Rule for more information.

What about cafés on private property? 

Café permit applications that also include seating on private property will require Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) review. We will route these internally while your application is being processed. If the outdoor seating area is located exclusively on private property, you will need to check with the SDCI directly if you need to get any permits for building out your outdoor seating area. The best way to check is to bring your plans to SDCI's Applicant Services Center and inquire about your project.

How do I report noise concerns or other issues with a sidewalk café? 

Noise-related issues can be sent to the Seattle Police Department's non-emergency number at (206) 625-5011. The City also has a noise abatement team. Click here to learn more about Seattle's Noise Ordinance. SDOT manages the use of streets of sidewalks, and we have the right to require immediate changes if a café has expanded beyond its permitted area, and may revoke or modify an approved café permit due to any ongoing problems. We can be reached at (206) 684-ROAD from 8 AM to 5 PM during the work week.

Where can I see and comment on café permit applications? 

Information about public notices can be found on our Public Comment page. 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 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.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

Any person may request a review or reconsideration of a decision made by SDOT. Please refer to instructions on our Public Comment page