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[Toolkit] How to set up outdoor seating (Open Air Guidance)–Updated April 12

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UPDATE ON APRIL 12: The guidance has been updated to increase capacity to 50% while monitoring CO2 in Open-air Concept 1 while the county is in Phase 2.

UPDATE ON FEB. 4: The guidance has been updated to add additional CO2 testing between booths if your establishment has physical barriers in between, and is operating under Open Air Option 1 or Option 2.

On Jan. 12, 2021, the Governor’s Office released updated guidelines for open-air and outdoor seating. Here is how you can accommodate guests outdoors.

What does this mean for you if you have plexiglass or another physical barrier between your tables or booths? To ensure those barriers aren’t prohibiting airflow, you’ll need to test the CO2 levels in each booth for 15 minutes. If those readings are showing 450ppm or below, those barriers are OK to stay. If your levels are above 450ppm, you’ll need to think of ways to increase airflow to those areas or even remove some of those barriers.

Before you begin

This is a friendly reminder that the four outdoor seating and dining alternatives below do not replace other coronavirus prevention requirements. Make sure you follow the restaurant‐specific guidance documents, keep tables six feet apart and ensure customers and staff always wear cloth face coverings except when consuming food or beverages while seated. It’s a best practice to make sure your new or expanded outdoor seating plans comply with local building codes, your local health jurisdiction, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board and Washington State Department of Labor and Industries requirements. Adequate lighting for tasks such as cleaning and sanitizing must be provided.

The Washington Hospitality Association team also recommends checking in with your local health department and/or your local Liquor and Cannabis Board enforcement officer before making any major changes or investments. Securing written approval is helpful for any dispute that may come along later. Also, be sure to check with your city regarding any permits required to expand or start outdoor dining on city sidewalks. Seattle, for example, is offering a temporary permit for outdoor cafes.

Now … get ready to open the bay doors!

What is open-air seating?

Open-air seating is replacing the previous outdoor dining definition and now applies to both permanent AND temporary structures. The state’s new definition of permeable exterior walls is what matters here for outdoor seating Options 1 and 2.

Open-air seating occurs in a structure with one or more permeable exterior walls. Examples:

  • Open bay doors
  • Multiple open windows
  • Screened openings
  • Open tent panels
  • Ventilation holes in side panels
  • Uncovered lattice

These items do not count as permeable exterior walls:

  • Single windows
  • Interior, entrance or emergency exit doors

What to remember for both Option 1 and Option 2:

  • If CO2 levels exceed 450ppm for 15 minutes, patrons must be relocated to an open-air seating option that meets requirements. CO2 monitor must be in the seating area furthest away from the outdoor air source.
  • If using physical barriers between tables/booths, monitor CO2 levels at each table for 15 minutes to verify that the barrier is not creating an area of insufficient airflow.
  • Windows and doors must be opened 10 minutes prior to seating customers and remain open 10 minutes after customers leave.

Open Air Option 1

What you’ll need:

  • CO2 monitor – CO2 values must be continuously monitored to ensure adequate exchange with outdoor air and adjust the seating and air flow as needed.

How to set it up:

Your seating area has two or more adjacent nonpermeable walls – walls that do not meet the permeable exterior walls definition above. This seating area is still allowed with occupancy limited to 25% of capacity of the seating area as set by fire code (not including employees).

Open Air Option 2

What you’ll need:

  • You may need to have a CO2 monitor in areas not within the direct path of air. Make sure you check with your local health officer for help in identifying areas not within the direct path of air.

How to set it up:

Your seating area has two non‐adjacent permeable exterior, unblocked walls that allow cross ventilation.

If you choose Open Air Options 1 or 2, make sure you read and follow the fine print:

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) monitoring: If CO2 levels exceed 450ppm for 15 minutes, guests must be relocated to an open‐air seating option that does not exceed that level.
  • Table size is limited to six people.
  • Tables must be spaced at least 6 feet apart.
  • Windows and doors must be opened 10 minutes prior to seating guests.
  • Windows and doors must remain open 10 minutes after guests leave.
  • A CO2 monitor must be in the seating area furthest away from the outdoor air source.

Open Air Option 3

How to set it up:

All seating is in unobstructed outdoor air. This includes:

  • Sidewalks
  • Covered patios
  • Courtyards
  • Similar outdoor areas

The fine print for Option 3:

  • Outdoor seating may have an overhead cover and one wall, but no other nonpermeable walls over 4 feet high within 10 feet of the seating area.
  • Table size is limited to six people and tables must be at least 6 feet apart.

Open Air Option 4

How to set it up:

Provide an enclosed structure with protection from the weather that seats six or fewer guests at a time. Examples:

  • Pods
  • Igloos
  • Similar outdoor structures

The fine print for Option 4:

  • Structures must be completely aired out, cleaned and disinfected before each use.
  • When the space is occupied by staff, keep the doors and windows open.
  • Wait 10 minutes between groups to air the structure out before cleaning and sanitizing.
  • Limit employee time in the occupied pod by using ordering and service methods like text messaging or handheld kiosks that can be sanitized.
  • Employees serving the pod must, at a minimum, wear a disposable mask.

Reference the handy chart below for additional details: