Arlington’s Outdoor Cafe Guidelines

by April 7, 2011 at 12:46 pm 3,863 21 Comments

What does it take to open an outdoor cafe in Arlington? With the arrival of spring, the county is reminding restaurant owners about the rules and regulations behind outdoor seating.

Below are a few of the guidelines for outdoor cafes, as outlined in this county-produced flyer which is being distributed to local businesses.

  • Outdoor cafes must be part of a lawful operating restaurant, cafe, or vendor with a valid license from the Commissioner of Revenue and a Certificate of Occupancy from the Zoning Office
  • Outdoor seating or cafes are seasonal, permitted typically from April through November of each year, from Spring through Autumn and only during normal business operating hours. They cannot be enclosed and no parking is required.
  • The Location and seating arrangements must be pre-approved as part of the Certificate of Occupancy application and should remain that way for the duration of the outdoor season.
  • Umbrellas are allowed and may not have logo(s) or signs(s) without legislative approval
  • Portable signs are not permitted. These include A-frame signs, triangular or arrow signs, etc. Permits must be obtained for all signs.
  • Shielding of fenced area with banner or logos are not permitted. State and local permits and approval is required for other services such as ABC, health, etc.
  • During the course of the season, a County staffer may visit your business as part of our observation and verification process.

  • Thes

    This seems hastily produced.

    • charlie

      yep. and dubious. watch out for the not-so-new zoning administrator playing lawyer and planner. and not good at either.

  • FedUp

    The flyer reads “to help owners and user…”. One user only? And there is no email address for Zoning? Good luck trying to call the number listed. They hardly ever answer the phone.

    • JohnW

      I just called, they picked up.

      • FedUp

        You’re lucky. I called. No answer. Called again later. Still no answer.

  • JF

    Its a shame these are only permitted April – November. I enjoy other cities, especially in Europe that dont have these restrictions.

    • Lou

      Yeah, that’s one thing in the list I do not quite understand. Why is it “generally” from April to November? Why seasonal restrictions at all?

      • mehoo

        Agree – what purpose is there to that? Let them open whenever customers want to be outside.

      • charlie

        definitely want to see where “typically” is defined in our zoning ordinance. Speaking of overpaid county employees…

        • mehoo

          These words aren’t in the code. That’s why this is called “guidelines.” If you need to know more, you go look at the code or call the staff. Duh.

      • Specificity?

        Yes, “generally” and “typically” are meaningless in this context. And, I like it when the outdoor season is extended with the gas radiant heaters etc. But, they probably don’t want restaurants thinking they can make some semi-permament enclosure that is heated year-round.

  • Stew Magnuson

    How about and addition: having the staff sweep up the cigarette butts left behind by the patrons at the end of the night (because smokers think the world is their personal ashtray and the restaurant provides none). My personal pet peeve. I’m talking to you Ireland’s Four Courts at Courthouse. Clean up the mess we pedestrians have to walk over the next morning.

    • LuvDusty

      I too hate the cigarette butts. But this isn’t the fault of outdoor seating–this is because people are pigs. It’s called trashcans, they should be used.

      This is not a problem at most restaurants, because I believe the smoking ordinance applies even outside does it not?

      • Stew Magnuson

        I’m not sure about the ordinance. If that’s the case, it is blatantly ignored. In any case, the restaurant staff at the end of the night should sweep up what the smokers left behind. I have never seen any ashtrays on the tables at Four Courts.

        And yes, most smokers operate under the mistaken belief that cigarette butts are somehow not litter.

  • Not a fan

    What is the definition of “enclosed?” If this incorporates a fencing that physically separates the table area from passersby on the sidewalk, then perhaps somebody from the county should come to Clarendon and inspect the operations of Circa, Pete’s and the Cheesecake Factory. Some of these “enclosed” areas take up a good deal of the sidewalk.

    • Tater Salad

      Those enclosures are required by Virginia ABC.

      • mehoo

        Weird thing is, I learned here on ArlNow that apparently the county has no public drinking ordinance expect in parks. So you can’t buy a beer from a restaurant and drink it offsite (due to ABC regs) but you can buy one from 7-11 and drink it on the sidewalk. I always thought that this was illegal due to state law, but apparently not. Can’t wait for the next parade.

  • John

    I didn’t see anything about exactly how much of the sidewalk can be taken up by the establishment. I always thought it couldn’t exceed 50%. And, of course all the obstacles ( trees, trashcans, bike racks, etc) are on the pedestrian side of the sidewalk.

  • Clarendon Business

    “During the course of the season, a County staffer may visit your business as part of our observation and verification process”…and our Code Enforcement staff may visit you to shake your pockets.

    • Lou

      That’s a nice outdoor seating area you got there. Be a shame is something happened to it.

      • LV

        Just goes to show it “pays off” to know your CE inspector – like the one with the million plus casa in Arlington or the one with the legal/financial/foreclosure/traffic problems in MD and elsewhere. An independent investigative function would stop some of this bs.


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