LOCAL NEWS

Seattle food truck, café regulations remain post pandemic

Dec 14, 2022, 12:29 PM | Updated: 12:47 pm
seattle neighborhood food truck...
Outdoor dining structures along Ballard Avenue Northwest in June 2021. (MyNorthwest photo)
(MyNorthwest photo)

Your favorite food truck and outdoor sidewalk café are officially sticking around.

The Seattle City Council has passed a proposal allowing for food trucks to operate on public streets permanently and restaurants to continue to operate in outdoor seating areas, as they have during the pandemic.

In 2011, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a law that allowed food trucks to operate on city streets. Prior to that, food vending was only permitted on private, off-street lots.

The new rules came with a slew of regulations to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants, including that food trucks could not operate within 50 feet of any permanent food service locations and two food trucks could not operate at the same time on the same block.

Seattle looks to make food truck outdoor dining regulation permanent

Other restrictions complicated business for food truck vendors. They had to be at least 1,000 feet away from a high school, and 50 feet away from a public park.

Food trucks were also not permitted adjacent to the vast majority of the parcels in the city that are zoned low-density residential, including single-family zoned housing.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) eased a lot of those requirements through their “Safe Start” outdoor dining and curb space use program.

The program, which started in June 2020, includes options for outdoor dining, vending, merchandise displays, and street closures. The city also has issued more than 300 permits under the Safe Start program.

Previously the program was a temporary solution to the fact that no one could eat inside restaurants, and set to end on Jan. 31, 2023.

It offered a life preserver to restaurants by making it easier to get permits for outdoor dining and food truck permits.

recent survey conducted by the Seattle Department of Transportation showed that 90% of respondents supported the city’s sidewalk cafés.

“There have been conversations about, ‘Does this privatize public space?’ For me, the answer is no, because we’re relying on small businesses and their entrepreneurial skills to make our neighborhoods more vibrant,” said councilmember Dan Strauss, who sponsored the bill.

The new measure signed by the council will create a fee structure for businesses to secure the permits for outdoor spaces, with the goal of making it cheaper for many restaurants and cafés to set up street and patio seating and new rules that “emphasize the public nature of the street.”

An outdoor dining permit would cost a restaurant $1,220 for its first year, and $588 to renew. A seasonal permit is also available for cheaper, costing $500.

The city will also create structural standards and design goals for the outdoor dining structures, specifically with regulations to require them to be “visually permeable, attractive, durable, graffiti-resistant, and easy to clean and maintain.” They will also be deemed public spaces outside of business hours.

The new legislation also adds back the requirement that all food trucks operate at least 50 feet away from all brick-and-mortar restaurants.

These regulations will go into effect next year.

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Seattle food truck, café regulations remain post pandemic