Sidewalk Café and Sidewalk Seating

What’s happening now?

Program Update

Starting November 3, 2019, our standards and regulations related to cafés in the public place are changing! Our ordinance to update the café program (125946) was adopted by City Council and signed by Mayor Durkan on October 4, 2019. A quick summary of the program updates can be found in this fact sheet

Your invitation to comment on the proposed Director's Rule 

As a companion to the new ordinance 125946, we have updated the our Director's Rule on Cafés in the Public Place, which interprets the code in Chapter 15.16 Cafés in the Public Place. This proposed Director's Rule is a companion to the newly adopted ordinance 125946 and will supersede our Director's Rule 4-2011 Sidewalk Cafés. This proposed Director's Rule outlines the updated siting standards, design standards, application review processes, and permit considerations for cafés in the public place.

Click here to read the proposed Director's Rule for Cafés in the Public Place

The comment period concludes on October 28, 2019 at 5:00 P.M.

Questions and comments regarding the proposed rule may be directed to Ellie Smith at 206-684-9229 or via email at ellie.smith@seattle.gov.

Tables and Chairs Permit

With a Tables and Chairs permit, businesses can 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.

Best of all? This permit type is free! 

People enjoying tables and chairs outside of a cafe

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 4-2011 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.

Sidewalk Café Permit

A Sidewalk Café Permit allows a food-service business to set up tables and chairs on the sidewalk immediately next to the business. A sidewalk café can provide table service and serve alcohol, if the business has an active liquor license. Both umbrellas and fencing may be used in the café design. Unlike a Tables and Chairs Permit, a Sidewalk Café Permit allows the business to secure exclusive seating for their patrons.

Note: Applicants wanting a permit that allows tables and chairs located in a curb space, roadway area, or converted parking spot require a pilot streatery or parklet program application. Visit the Parklets and Streateries page to learn more.

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 4-2011. The site plan (11"x17" preferred) should show the elevation and dimensions of the proposed café and any additional elements, available pedestrian zone clearance, and a fencing delineation plan and details

A blank 11x17" site plan template

Step 2: Collect the required documents

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

  • a photo 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.  
  • 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

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, zoning, and existing obstructions in front of your food service establishment will allow for a sidewalk 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 decision
  • 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!

Permit Revocation and Expiration

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. Sidewalk café operators must comply with the terms and conditions of the permit and must keep 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 sidewalk café with at least 24 hours-notice. In an emergency, we may immediately clear the sidewalk 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. 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

If conditions haven't changed, existing permitted sidewalk cafés will continue to renew annually. If site conditions have changed, modifications to the café and amendments to the permit are necessary to stay in compliance.

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.

We handle issues of sidewalk encroachment. We can be reached at (206) 684-ROAD from 8 AM to 5 PM during the work week. We have the right to require immediate changes if a sidewalk café has expanded beyond its permitted area, and may revoke an approved Sidewalk Café Permit due to any ongoing problems.

It is the food service establishment's responsibility to comply with all regulations of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). We will evaluate the design plan and make recommendations. Our approval of a café does not guarantee that it meets federal accessibility requirements.

Our Director's Rule 4-2011 governs sidewalk cafés and requires:

  1. An ADA-compliant path-of-travel for pedestrians on the sidewalk.
  2. A detectable barrier between the sidewalk café and the path of travel.
  3. Wheelchair access to seating platforms.

Sidewalk 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.