Outdoor Dining Spaces during COVID-19

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Stay at Home 2.0

On May 1, 2020, Governor Sununu issued Executive Order #40 (also referred to as “Stay at Home 2.0”), which extends the Stay at Home order to May 31,2020. This order also allows for the gradual return of a variety of businesses under strict conditions. On May 18, restaurants are allowed to open outdoor dining, while indoor dining is still not permitted. Restaurants are permitted to expand their seating to areas that can be used safely, including parking spaces near entrances, sidewalks, existing patios, and lawn areas. Tables must be spaced six feet apart and seat no more than six guests. Patrons are encouraged to make reservations and only one person from each party is allowed to wait in the reception area (the rest of the party must stay in their car until the table is ready). The details of Executive Order #40 pertaining to restaurants can be found here.

For many restaurants, especially those located in downtown areas, Stay at Home 2.0 presents an issue of how to ensure they can cater to their customers within the state and local requirements while also respecting right-of-way issues, safety concerns, and traffic patterns. This guide provides some best practices and helpful hints to create vibrant outdoor restaurant spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic.

NH Community Responses

Some communities in New Hampshire has begun formalizing processes to ensure restaurants can create outdoor seating that complies with state and local regulations. Other communities are considering shutting down their main streets to create more space for outdoor seating and allow social distancing. Below are a few examples from around the state.

Working with NH Department of Transportation

Many communities that want to create outdoor seating on state roads, sidewalks or rights-of-way will need to get permission from NH DOT. It is best to get in contact with your District Engineer. Requests to DOT should include the following elements, as well as any other requirements they may have:

  • The request must come from the municipality on behalf of the business or businesses.
  • The request should include a plan identifying at least:
  • Where and how parking will be accommodated
  • Where and how pedestrian traffic will be safely accommodated and how ADA requirements will be met
  • A description of  how customers, pedestrians, cyclist and roadway traffic will be delineated
  • Demonstration that attention has been given to an adequate separation of motor vehicle travel ways from seating/retail areas including consideration of positive barriers when appropriate
  • Identification of clear maintenance responsibility
  • An executed agreement to document these accommodations, responsibilities and liability.

Out-of-State Resources and Guides

The resources below are intended to stimulate ideas and solutions based on what other places are doing, but should be applied with caution given the different regulatory requirements and needs of each state .

Lessons from Tactical Urbanism

Tactical urbanism (also called pop up demonstrations) is a common tool used by planners, community groups, and place-making initiatives. It is an approach to neighborhood building that uses short-term, low-cost materials to temporarily transform a space and possibly initiate long-term change. Examples of tactical urbanism include creating parklets out of parking spaces, adding a temporary bike lane, or creating a colorful crosswalk. With businesses considering occupying sidewalks and parking lots to create outdoor seating, there are some valuable lessons from tactical urbanism to make a safe and vibrant space. Please note that these are only suggestions and any outdoor dining spaces must comply with local and state regulations and guidance.

Provide Barriers

Objects that create separation will be critical to ensure people can socially distance and prevent vehicles, cyclists or other pedestrians from entering the dining area. Traffic control devices such as wheel stops, or reflective bollards separate the dining area from adjacent parking spots. Other potential barriers include plastic or concrete jersey barriers, traffic cones or control barricades, cardboard cylinders (that can be painted), granite blocks, or even hay bales. Barriers can also be effective by using them as a canvas to display public art. 

Use Planters

Plants are a low-cost and very effective way of transforming a parking lot or concrete sidewalk into an aesthetically pleasing space. Depending on the volume and number of plants, they can also help to minimize surrounding noise. When taller plants are placed in wooden crates, tire planters or large pots, they can also act as a barrier and be used to demarcate a dining space.

Add Temporary Furniture

Since the goal is to create outdoor dining spaces on either sidewalks, parking lots, or even closed-down streets, the appropriate furniture is essential. Picnic tables and other seating that may be difficult to move could be best to ensure the six foot distance is maintained. However, folding chairs and tables with umbrellas could also create an enjoyable dining experience. Temporary decking or platforms to cover the ground can also help demarcate the space while provide ADA accessibility. 

Create Street Murals

Much in the same way that a mural on the side of a building can redefine and make us appreciate a space, adding color treatments to streets can help define a space and enhance aesthetic appeal. Furthermore, color can brighten up a space and make a surreal situation seem less jarring. This is also a great way to promote local businesses by mimicking their colors or logos within the art put on the ground. There are many temporary materials that will fade with weather or can be power washed away if needed, such as chalk, corn starch paint, epoxy gravel or tempera paint. 

Other Tips

  • Don’t put any temporary furniture over street drains to impede water flow
  • Ensure outdoor dining areas do not obstruct fire hydrants or other safety amenities
  • Be in contact with your municipality to ensure you are following the correct process and have the proper permission