Seattle, WA

Seattle's outdoor café survey seeks feedback to shape the future of dining tents and sidewalk patios

Chris Maykut

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Barking Dog Alehouse

In the Spring of 2020, posters around lower Phinney appeared on telephone poles urging the neighborhood to “Save the Barking Dog”. Owner Dan Anderson was already feeling the effects of being closed for weeks and the subsequent shift to takeout-only dining. For a business that relied on a festive and warm atmosphere and friendly service, the future looked bleak.

In early summer, a coalition of City Councilmembers led by our own D6 representative Dan Strauss sponsored legislation that waived onerous sidewalk permit fees and cut red tape to make it easier for restaurateurs to offer outdoor seating during the pandemic. Almost overnight, the Barking Dog Alehouse seemed to double in size, and transform the sidewalk and parking spaces in front of the business into the same festive and warm atmosphere that once was enjoyed indoors. At the time, indoor dining was at 50% capacity, but the stipulation that each party must consist of five people or fewer and tables must be six feet apart made for unrealistic business expectations for most restaurants and bars.

“This idea came straight from the small business community that they felt would aid in their recovery,” Strauss said in a news release at the time. “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.”

Many other neighborhood spots soon followed suit, including Pie Bar, Snapshot Brewing (who teamed up with Taco Del Mar to offer “street tacos”), Oliver’s Twist, Prost!, Raiz, and many more.

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Fast forward to this summer. The Seattle City Council recently passed legislation to extend the Safe Start permits that allow for private businesses to utilize public sidewalks and parking spaces to establish safer retail and dining spaces through May of 2022. Phinneywood’s new street dining tents and sidewalk patios will be allowed to stay at least through that month — and, possibly, beyond. The city is looking for feedback on how to shape its Safe Start permits program for the future.

Have you enjoyed a meal, drink, or treat on an outdoor patio at your favorite restaurant or café this past year? Chances are, if the outdoor seating was on the sidewalk or street, the coffee shop, brewery, restaurant, or ice cream shop may have been one of the 200+ businesses participating in our safe start program this last year.

Take our Outdoor Cafes, Displays, and Vending in Public Space Survey to share your thoughts on how we can improve these permit programs for the future.

Whether you’re a business owner who applied for a permit, employee who served customers outside, patron who frequented your local cafes, or anyone else who has thoughts on how we can improve these permits, we want to hear from you!

The program has been a huge success for many businesses who have been able to take advantage of the streamlined permitting and gift of new space, with some neighborhood eateries reporting that they attribute making it this far into the pandemic because of the program. There are also challenges including keeping areas accessible for everyone and street safety.

Per Ashley Aust, Manager of Prost! Phinney Ridge, “We applied for the permit because we had to do so to stay open. We would not have survived the pandemic shutdowns without our new street seating.”

“Outdoor dining has been loved by so many small businesses and residents, and its exactly the vision we want for our city post-pandemic: vibrant neighborhoods where anyone can live, walk, work, and play,” the city’s announcement of the survey reads.

The program has also expanded to include a multitude of uses from outdoor cafes, retail merchandise displays, food trucks, and vending carts, to fitness gyms and studios, and retail and craft vending.

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Hyperlocal news, events, happenings and business district dispatches from the Phinney-Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle.

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