New Phase I – DC Guidance Clarifies Standards for Outdoor Dining as of June 12

In Hospitality, Legislation by Richard Bianco

The latest guidance on DC’s Phase I re-opening came out on Friday, as a joint-effort from the Mayor, DDOT and DOH. The publication specifically addresses outdoor seating on public space, but, also provides clarity for other outdoor operations. Any establishment with outdoor dining should review the complete guide.

The Phase I Reopening Plan allows on-premises dining in existing public sidewalk cafés and private summer garden areas, subject to distancing and other requirements. Additionally, establishments are allowed to expand outdoor operations to new, ground level private space (such as parking lots), and adjacent public spaces (alleys, plazas, streets and sidewalks). However, the physical layout requirements for these spaces are vaguely written and were not being consistently applied. This newest guidance clarifies some of the outstanding issues.

By right, restaurants can use the public space (sidewalks and parking spaces) immediately in front of their establishment[1] for outdoor dining, with DDOT approval, subject to certain physical layout restrictions.  Co-opting larger spaces, such as alleys, plazas, or entire streets (so-called “streateries”) must be requested by an organization, like a BID or Main Street.

In general, the physical layout requirements are:

  • A minimum 6’ wide pedestrian path;
  • A 4-foot “buffer zone” between the pedestrian path and seating; and
  • tables and chairs spaced 6’ apart.

Depending on the space limitations, a number of different layouts can be compliant, as the new guidance diagrams.

The guidance also clarifies existing requirements, by providing new details, such as how distances are to be measured. Specifically, the 6’ distance between tables, is to be measured from chair-to-chair, chair-to-table, or table-to-table, whichever is shortest. Provided however, that chairs at the same table, need not be spaced 6’ apart.

Additionally, the new guidance expressly states that tents are permissible, but, may not be any larger than 10’x 10’. Previously this standard was not published and had not been applied consistently.

The complete guidance provides greater detail about physical space limitations, impediments, (such as hydrants and tree-boxes), and application procedures. It is a valuable compliance tool for any restaurant with an outdoor dining component.  If you have questions about your legal obligations, feel free to give us a call or use our online scheduling tool to book an appointment to speak with us.

[1] Provided owners/tenants consent, an establishment is also eligible to use the public space adjacent to neighboring properties as well.