Temporary Outdoor Dining

As Massachusetts re-opens the economy, many restaurants will be seeking to temporarily add or expand existing outdoor seating. In an effort to make this process easier, the city has developed the following guidance which includes the minimum requirements from all relevant city departments. Additionally, the city has streamlined the process and any usual city application and permit fees related to these changes will be waived.

State Guidance & Documents

City Requirements

ADA Compliance

All areas shall comply with ADA accessibility requirements. Any seating located on a public sidewalk or walkway must maintain 5 feet of clear access. Pedestrian access to and from tents or seating areas must have clearly designated access ways.


Outdoor table service may be provided under awnings or table umbrellas or other cover from the elements, provided, however, that at least 50% of the perimeter of any covered dining space must remain open and unobstructed by any form of siding or barriers at all times. If installing a tent, a joint Tent Permit must be obtained from the Building Department and Fire Department.

  • A certificate of flame resistance must be submitted and approved.
  • All tents must comply with the Massachusetts Comprehensive Fire Safety Code (527 CMR) and the Massachusetts Building Code (780 CMR sections 108, 34, 10 and chapter 24 of the International Fire Code). Tent rental companies should be familiar with codes.
  • Tents must have an approved fire extinguisher on site.
  • Exit signage and lighting may be required.
  • Tents can NOT have walls.
  • All gas appliances (heaters, grills, etc.) must meet all Fire Code and Gas Code requirements. They must be inspected if required. Carbon Monoxide detectors may be required.


All temporary outdoor seating spaces must be inspected by the city’s building department prior to occupancy

Clear Access

Fire lanes, exits, hydrants, fire department connections, and other features of fire protection must be kept clear. 

Responsibilities of Restaurants

The restaurant, through its owner and/or manager, is responsible for the following as it pertains to the use of the parking lot for outdoor dining:

  • Adherence to the plans and documents submitted, reviewed, and approved;
  • Procurement of tables, chairs, disinfecting stations, and any other physical items that will be used in the outdoor dining area; and
  • Procurement and installation of temporary safety barriers to protect diners from vehicles and traffic (only applicable to dining areas on private property/private parking lots).

Rights of the City of Northampton

The City of Northampton reserves the right to revoke permission to allow the use of parking lots for outdoor dining for the following reasons: 

  • The operation of the outdoor dining area is not in compliance with submitted safety protocols;
  • The outdoor dining area is not facilitating safe passage in accordance with Americans with Disability Act requirements;
  • The Health Department, Chief of Police, License Commission and/or their designee’s determine that the operation of the outdoor dining area is negatively impacting public health and safety.


Outdoor Dining Process

The process for outdoor dining is intended to be as streamlined as possible. Whether establishments have a liquor license or not, the City of Northampton requires EVERY ESTABLISHMENT to submit a plan for approval for the intended use of an outdoor area.

  • For establishments that ALREADY HAVE a tables and chairs permit and/or an extension of licensed premises, you must:
    • Receive an inspection by the Building Department prior to operating so the city can ensure you are in compliance with the State’s COVID-19 guidelines and requirements.
  • For establishments that DO NOT have an outdoor tables and chairs permit or an extension of premises, you must:
    • Complete the appropriate application on this web page
    • Attend a License Commission meeting to request approval. If approved:
    • Receive an inspection by the Building Department prior to operating to ensure you are in compliance with the State’s COVID-19 guidelines and requirements (and if you have a liquor license, ensure you are in compliance with the requirements of your liquor license).

For questions on this process, please contact Annie Lesko at alesko@northamptonma.gov.