Seattle to waive sidewalk permit fees for restaurants that want to increase outdoor seating during coronavirus

Tan Vinh

If you’re skittish about dining-in at restaurants during the pandemic, would you be more open if your table was plopped out front, along the sidewalk — since the coronavirus is supposedly less likely to transmit from person to person outdoors?

The city of Seattle is hoping that might be enough to get you to eat out again.

On Friday, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that the city will waive sidewalk permit fees and cut red tape to make it easier for restaurateurs to offer outdoor seating during the pandemic. The free, temporary sidewalk-and-curb-space permit would be good for up to six months and would also apply to food trucks and carts, as well as retail shops that could display merchandise out front. The City Council is expected to pass the proposed legislation, sponsored by council members Dan Strauss and Alex Pedersen.

“This idea came straight from the small business community that they felt would aid in their recovery,” Strauss said in a news release. “Sidewalk cafes are a creative public health strategy, a necessary step to help our businesses survive the economic impacts of COVID-19, and an example of how we can better utilize our existing pedestrian spaces.”

Last Friday, King County moved into Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start plan, which allows restaurants to operate at 50% capacity, with the stipulation that each party must consist of five people or fewer, and tables must be six feet apart. But Seattle restaurateurs weren’t exactly rushing to reopen their dining rooms. The economics didn’t pan out due to the limited seating and the high cost of staffing, about a dozen chefs told The Seattle Times. Many have lobbied City Hall to use the sidewalks to make up for the lost seating capacity.

Click here to read more of this Seattle Times article by Tan Vinh.