Eating and Drinking Outside

Good ventilation is one of the best ways to stop COVID-19 spreading. This article in the Spanish newspaper El Pais shows how the virus spreads indoors. That’s why we’re encouraging councils and businesses to work together, to free up outside space – especially for cafés, restaurants, pubs and bars.

London’s economy has been growing faster at night than in the day. Pre-COVID, London had 1.6 million night workers and the night economy was worth at least £40 billion. Our hospitality sector is the third biggest employer in the UK and our night time culture is famous around the world.

The COVID-19 crisis has left many of our much loved pubs, restaurants and venues on the brink of collapse. Revenues have plummeted and businesses have spent millions on making themselves COVID Secure. Businesses are feeling the impact of all the restrictions placed on them.

Together with London’s local authorities, we are doing everything we can to help businesses get back on their feet. We are calling on government to abolish the 10pm curfew, which has increased the risk of COVID-19 spreading by causing crowds on our streets and public transport.

We also provide guidance on the London Business Hub. Eating and Drinking Outside, sets out how local authorities and business can work together to help hospitality venues trade safely using outside spaces.

Amy Lamé, Night Czar

Rajesh Agrawal, Deputy Mayor of London for Business

The case for outdoor hospitality

The pandemic has left many pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues struggling to survive. Hospitality venues have done great work in putting measures in place to make their venues Covid-safe. But with either full closure or reduced capacity and restrictions on socialising indoor, they have face an increased risk from permanent closure as revenues are reduced further.

The ability to operate in the public realm during summer 2020 was a lifeline for many venues. It allowed them to increase sales within the restrictions while bringing high streets and town centres back to life. Many businesses have successfully adapted outside space to accommodate more customers in a safe way.

Public Health England Guidance for people who work in or run restaurants, pubs, bars, cafes or takeaways, encourages the use of outdoor areas for service where possible. As we plan ahead for reopening after lockdown, demand for outdoor hospitality is likely to increase as venues look to recoup lost revenues. We need to consider how businesses can operate safely in the public realm throughout the year. A range of innovations will be required to keep businesses afloat. Helping businesses to adapt for outdoor hospitality year-round will enable some business to stay open.

In March 2021, the Government confirmed a series of licencing and planning measures including:

  • Extension of pavement licences for a further 12 months to help the hospitality industry recover.
  • Relaxation of planning rules to allow pubs and restaurants to operate as takeaways.
  • Greater flexibility for land to be used for temporary events, such as markets.
  • Planning freedoms to allow outdoor markets, marquees, pop-up car-boot sales or summer fairs without the need of a planning application.

Case Studies 

Below are some national and international case studies of adapting outdoor spaces for dining. Any schemes that are implemented locally will need to follow UK guidance.

Westminster Al-Fresco Dining

  • Westminster City Council implemented road closures over the summer to increase outdoor dining. After extending the scheme until the end of October, Westminster has recently updated advice for the hospitality sector on outdoor dining to support Westminster’s hospitality sector during the winter.

Camden Council Streateries

  • Camden Council supported business to reopen safely through four streateries in Camden, providing more temporary space for these businesses helps customers to physically distance whilst eating/drinking out.

Dining in the City of London’s Square Mile

  • The City of London Corporation agreed to continue efforts to help the hospitality sector by continuing to issue pavement licences free of charge for suitable premises.

Chicago Winter Dining Challenge

  • Chicago ran a competition to find solutions to stimulate and encourage safe outdoor dining, for both customers and restaurant/bar staff, during cold weather months. Winning solutions are eligible to receive a $5,000 cash prize, with a total of three winners to be chosen. 60 ideas were shortlisted and provide innovative inspiration.

San Francisco ‘shared spaces’

  • San Francisco is making it easier to use pavements, streets and open spaces for business during the coronavirus pandemic. They have made permits/licences free, produced design guidelines for building structures on the highway and is providing grants to businesses to help them adapt.

New York City Open Restaurants

  • New York City’s Mayor has extended a scheme to allow food outlets to operate on the pavement and highway all year round.

Consideration for operating in the public realm 

Outdoor space

  • Is there available/suitable space outside the venue?
  • Are road or parking bay closures possible?
  • Will the vulnerability of some or all customers be increased (e.g. from theft or terrorist attacks)?
  • Is it clear who to contact in your local authority to get permission for outdoor dining?
  • Would outdoor operation cause problems for residents (e.g. noise, increased infrastructure)?

Infrastructure and implementation

  • Upfront costs for infrastructure e.g. tables, chairs, heaters, coverings, barriers.
  • Finding sustainable solutions, especially for outdoor heating during colder months.
  • Increased staffing costs to monitor outdoor seating.
  • Conditions on licences may restrict outdoor activities like heating or umbrellas. Speak to the local licensing teams to resolve these.


  • Police, local authorities, and businesses should work in partnership, following the ‘Four Es’ (Engage, Explain, Encourage, Enforce).
  • It is everyone’s responsibility to follow the regulations.
  • Local authorities should consider what level of resources will be needed to support businesses in trading safely outdoors.


  • Can a business cope with the ever-changing British weather? How far are they prepared to go to operate outdoors to make it possible and worthwhile?

Air quality

  • There are air quality objectivesand air pollution levels that must be met by law. When these are not met Air Quality Management Areas are declared and boroughs must publish air quality action plans to demonstrate how they will reduce air pollution. Every London borough has declared an Air Quality Management Area and has an action plan to reduce air pollution. The use of outdoor heaters must not create a new air pollution source or increase emissions.


  • Government guidance on pavement licences provides information on considerations for disabled customers and workers. Local Authorities and businesses should consider neurodiversity and those who rely on consistency in the built environment to navigate. Councils should communicate any changes to the build environment to these groups.

Protective security considerations 

Security risks

  • As part of managing the Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation, security personnel will need to understand the security risks to their organisation and staff.  This guidance provides steps to take when managing these risks:
  • You may wish to consider refresher training for security staff to ensure knowledge is up to date.
  • Further guidance and training can be found through Safer Business Network:

Pavement Licences 

In July 2020, the government introduced a new, streamlined pavement licence process to allow businesses to secure the use of outdoor space in time for the summer. These licences allow removable furniture to be placed on parts of the highway. Licences could initially be can be granted for use up until 30 September 2021 at a flat fee of £100, although some local authorities issued for a shorter period which would require licences to be renewed.

In March 2021, the Secretary of State wrote to local authorities to confirm:

  • extension of the scheme until September 2022
  • licences should be granted for 12 months or more
  • existing licences should be extended without the need for reapplication/additional fees

Best practice  

  • Local authorities and businesses should agree ‘streatery’ locations together
    Businesses are unlikely to come forward to ask for road closures. Therefore ‘streateries’ are likely to succeed in areas where the local authority works with businesses or BIDs to agree where ‘streateries’ could be located and which roads or parking spaces could be closed.
  • Businesses should speak to the council licensing team about extending pavement licences
    Businesses should be encouraged to apply for permission to use space outside of their premises. They could investigate using space outside neighbouring closed or vacant businesses, which may require a minor variation to any existing permissions. Local authorities should take a pragmatic approach to granting minor variations.
  • Licence conditions need to permit use of covers, heaters and lighting
    Businesses should check their licence conditions to see if these are currently allowed. If not, they can apply to their local licensing authority for a minor variation. Local authorities should take a pragmatic approach to granting minor variations.
  • Furniture
    Pavement licence conditions specify that furniture is required to be removable. Local authorities are advised to be pragmatic when determining what is ‘removable’ but in principle this means it is not a permanent fixed structure, and is able to be moved easily, and stored away.
  • COVID-19 restrictions
    Businesses should continue to follow the government COVID-19 guidance for restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services:
  • UK Hospitality has put together an FAQs document, which includes advice on operating outdoors and guidance things to consider around pavement licences.

Where to apply for a pavement licence

Adapting to outdoor operation in winter 

Queuing Systems 

Adopting the use of virtual queuing systems may minimise customers waiting in cold weather and to help with customer tracking and contactless entry. This can also avoid queuing outside of venues, especially when space is not available or is being used for outdoor dining.

Some options include:


With the changeable British weather, one simple step is to ask customers to come dressed appropriately. A few messages on websites and at the time of booking could encourage people to wear warm clothing and layers. Businesses could also ask people to bring their own blankets or hot water bottles in the colder months, where they can provide free refills.


Tables and chairs are the most obvious requirement for operating outdoors. How you position any furniture is important, especially if the outside space you have is quite small.

Some things to consider around furniture are:

  • Use tables and chairs made from materials that feel warmer to the touch, rather than metal.
  • Add greenery between tables to not only help provide physical distance but to also serve as a shield from wind. This could also work with plastic barriers.
  • Ask permission to spread outdoor seating into neighbouring vacant properties or spaces, if space allows.


Putting outdoor seating undercover is one way of helping to protect customers from the elements. Businesses will need to check the conditions of their licence to make sure the use structures, such as umbrellas or tents, is allowed. If not, they can apply to their licensing authority for a minor variation.

Using enclosed pod seating, such as igloos, might seem like a good idea. However, these would be classed as indoor space under the same regulations for smoking. For a structure to be classed as outdoors, it must have no more than 50% of its sides enclosed.

Outdoor heating

When planning for outdoor dining in winter a key challenge is protecting customers from the British weather. Using heaters may seem like a simple solution, but comes with its own challenges. You should consider issues around:

  • Customer safety.
  • Where you plan to use a heater.
  • Environmental pollution.

Businesses will need to check the conditions of their licence to make sure the use of outdoor heaters is allowed. If not, they can apply to their licensing authority for a minor variation.

Outdoor heating in enclosed spaces

It may be tempting to put an outdoor heater inside a tent or enclosure to maximise the warmth, but there are a couple reasons to avoid this. First, some of these products (particularly those that run on propane) could produce carbon monoxide, which can be fatal inside an enclosed space. Anything that would be too enclosed to count as a smoking area shouldn’t usually be considered “outside” for this purpose. Second, if you’re gathering outdoors to reduce the risk of coronavirus, an enclosed area will reduce the necessary airflow.

Adequate ventilation plays an important role in reducing the spread of Covid-19 indoors. Ventilation can be increased naturally by opening windows which helps with air circulation. Mechanical ventilation and air purifiers can also be used in areas with high levels of air pollution. The World Health Organisation has recently released a video giving advice on increasing ventilation.

Heating options hierarchy 


As mentioned earlier, asking customers to come dressed for the weather (and changing weather) is the simplest way to allow people to sit outdoors.

Electric heaters/lamps

Using electric heaters provides the ability to turn heaters on and off when required which is preferable to other options given air pollution considerations. This also saves costs and electricity if no one is using the outdoor space. Electric heaters come in a range of setups including free standing, hanging, table-top, wall and tripod mounted. Some electric heaters available come with an automated sensor that turns on when triggered. In addition, electric heaters are much more efficient and can focus the outgoing warmth at a target, meaning that the people surrounding this heater will get warm instead of the skies above. A typical outdoor electric heater uses approximately 12p/kW/hour to run and is the safest and most effective way of heating an outdoor area.

Electric patio heaters use 85% less energy than gas patio heaters and are extremely cost effective providing instant heat with only the flick of a switch.

If the business switches to a renewable energy supplier, this will also lower the impact on the environment. Some suggested options for clean energy suppliers can be found at

Heating options to avoid 

Propane gas heaters

These heaters use liquid petroleum and are more expensive than electric heaters. They are usually quite bulky looking and compared with the price of electricity, they are more expensive. Having multiple propane heaters in a small area could constitute a fire hazard if they were all to be ignited at the same time. Gas heaters can be costly and extremely wasteful in terms of both heat generated and energy consumed.

Gas heaters also emit Nitrogen Dioxide, which is an air pollutant known to cause a range of harmful effects on the respiratory system, such as reduced lung function and an increase in asthma attacks. New research by Future Climate for Environmental Defense Fund Europe shows the air pollution created by a single standard outdoor gas heater at 5 hours per day for a year is approximately the same as that produced by a typical gas-heated home for a year. CO2 emissions are also released which contribute to global warming.  We strongly recommend that you do not use this method of heating.

Chimineas and Solid fuel burners (Pellets or wooden logs)

Whilst these kinds of heaters create a “campfire experience”, they can produce a lot of smoke which can have significant health impacts if exposed to them for long periods of time. Wood burning is a major source of Particulate Matter (PM) air pollution in the UK. PM2.5 particles affect the respiratory system and can even be absorbed into the blood and increase the risk of heart and lung disease.

The practicalities of having a wood burner make it less useful for people trying to keep warm around it. These types of outdoor heater require constant maintenance and are over all much harder to keep going all evening. Even well maintained chimineas and wood burners can emit smoke and, if used on a regular basis, could cause a statutory nuisance.  We strongly recommend that you do not use this method of heating.

Potential funding to support costs

The Mayor’s Back to Business Fund can support businesses to make their premises COVID-secure and adapt spaces for winter outdoor dining. The Mayor’s £1m Back to Business Fund offers up to £5,000 in match funding to small and independent businesses through the Pay It Forward London crowdfunding platform:

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