Accommodating outdoor and pop-up dining during COVID-19

This page provides fire and life safety considerations for authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) and building owners on outdoor and pop-up dining establishments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the pandemic continues across the U.S., one industry used to stabilize local economies — food and beverage — could face new fire and life safety challenges.

Key takeaways

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends implementing multiple mitigation measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This will affect how eating and drinking establishments operate even when temporary measures are implemented.
  • Ensure that fire and life safety systems and exits remain functional and available despite temporary modifications. The requirements have not changed as a result of the pandemic.
  • Be careful not to introduce new hazards when implementing temporary or improvised changes.
  • The requirements and approaches can vary based on local decisions.

The CDC recently published “Considerations for Restaurants and Bars.” The CDC recommends several mitigating measures including widespread use of face coverings where possible and modified or limited seating and service layouts to provide social distancing and increased circulation of outdoor air.

Challenge Public encroachment and emergency access

Many towns and cities have instituted relaxed permitting processes that allow eating and drinking establishments to operate with seating and service spaces outside or adjacent to their establishments. In some cases, these seating and service spaces are located on sidewalks. Others are located along streets and parking areas.

These improvised seating arrangements can impact exit discharges due to tables or temporary structures and balustrades being in what had previously served as emergency exit paths. Similarly, the altered seating and service spaces might be in or along previously relied upon areas for fire and emergency medical services' response operations.

Recommendation: Business owners, AHJs and first responders should review emergency plans to ensure that adequate emergency exit access remains available and unobstructed.

Challenge Heating devices

Another potential hazard as colder weather sets in is an increased use of portable heating devices inside tents and other temporary structures.

Recommendations:

  1. Ensure that heating devices have enough space between the device and combustible items as well as people.
  2. Keep electrical cords out of the path of foot traffic and away from furniture.
  3. Properly store and connect fuel tanks.

Challenge Temporary partitions, tents and other structures

Various materials have been used to provide temporary separations between patrons or spaces, including plexiglass, curtains and other materials that might not comply with interior finish or combustibility requirements. The partitions, tents and structures can also prevent airflow through a space, resulting in the inadvertent confinement of smoke or contaminated air.

Recommendation: Review temporary installations with AHJs for safety or acceptability.

Other factors to consider

Make sure that exit discharge and pedestrian flow is maintained.

Ensure that spaces not normally occupied or used for seating or service do not impact emergency exits.