Social Distancing Guidelines for Restaurant Seating and Retailers

News Article
Use outdoor space like a parking lot to help with social distancing and safety. Get zoning and other city code information to use parking lots for outdoor customer seating, services, and to sell merchandise. Use these social distancing guidelines for your outdoor seating, outdoor booths and more.
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Business parking lot illustrated graphic.

Overview: Q&A about zoning and other city code information for the temporary conversion of existing parking lots. Safety and social distancing is your top priority. Use parking lots for extra seating and selling merchandise.  

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1. What types of businesses can use their parking lots?

Business can use their parking lot for outdoor seating, merchandise sales or other services. A restaurant can add tables and chairs to their parking lot. A hardware store can display and sell items. A barber shop can cut hair in the parking lot. A gym could provide outdoor classes or move exercise equipment to the parking lot.

Retail sales and services uses are only allowed in commercial/mixed use zones. They are limited in employment and industrial zones. Check the zoning of the property before developing plans for outdoor seating and merchandise sales (See How do Businesses Check Zoning)

2. Is the existing on-site parking required or optional?

Generally, most exterior parking areas for businesses in commercial/mixed use zones are optional. Sites located less than 1500 feet or less from a transit station or 500 feet or less from a transit street with 20-minute peak hour service, don't need parking and any on-site parking is optional (See 33.266.110 Minimum Required Parking Spaces). On-site parking is also not required for sites less than 10,000 square feet or less in commercial/mixed use zone. The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) publishes a Close to Transit Stations map.

3. How do businesses restrict vehicle access to the parking lot?

You don't have to take away the vehicle curb cut to use a parking lot for outdoor seating and merchandise sales during COVID. You should use barricades to restrict vehicle access. The Portland Bureau of Transportation provides a list of barricades in the Healthy Streets program

4. What if only some of the parking lot is being used for outdoor seating and the sale of merchandise? 

2 restaurants with fenced in outdoor seating.

You can use part of the parking lot for outdoor seating and merchandise sales and part of the parking lot for cars. Considerations should include:  

  • Don't remove ADA accessible parking spaces for any outdoor activity like outdoor seating or merchandise sales. You need a permit and plans to move these spaces. If you use the entire parking lot for outdoor seating or sales and won't have any parking at all during COVID, accessible parking spaces aren't required. ADA parking is required by the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Restaurant with outdoor seating.
    Parking spaces used for vehicles should stay the same size. 
  • We recommend the use of planter boxes or other barriers for safety and to keep customers separated from vehicles.
  • The space may have outdoor lighting.
  • See PBOT’s Healthy Businesses Permits page.

5. Do we need permits for tables, temporary pop-up canopies or umbrellas in a parking lot?  

You don't need a permit to use tables, pop-up canopies and umbrellas in a parking lot. These items are not considered “development” by the zoning code or building code. The Fire Bureau requires a permit for pop-up canopies that are over 700 square feet in area. Please see the Fire Marshal's Office update on COVID-19 and Safe Start for Re-Opening.

6. Do outdoor chairs, tables and other furniture need to be stored indoors at night?

You don't have to store items indoors at night. You should secure furniture and other items located in parking lots overnight. 

7. Are there more permitting requirements if my property is in a design overlay zone? 

The design overlay zone requirements don't apply to adding temporary seating in parking lots. The requirements do apply if you build permanent canopies or covered areas. Building permanent structures may also need setbacks that are different from those of the existing parking lot. 

8. Can businesses use on-street parking spaces or space on the street for customer seating and merchandise sales? 

Please see PBOT’s Safe Streets Initiative

9. Does Multnomah County have guidance for restaurants and food service?

Please see Multnomah County's restaurants and food service COVID-19 guidance.    

10. Is a permit required to advertise the new outdoor area with a sign?

Temporary banner signs can be installed without a permit for up to 180 days. One banner sign of up to 32 square feet is allowed per building wall. Read more about sign code regulations

11. Can we use a nearby parking lot if we don't have one?

  • Parking lots located in commercial/mixed use zones can be used for offsite outdoor seating or merchandise sales.

  • Parking lots in residential zones can't be used for offsite outdoor seating and merchandise sales, including parking lots of religious institutions or other conditional uses located in residential zones.

  • Parking lots in employment zones are limited to 20,000 square feet or retail area, including existing area in the building. Other outdoor activity area for retail sales and service uses is limited to 20,000 square feet or the square footage of the site area, whichever is less.

12. Do I need a building permit if I want to build a deck?

  • To create an elevated surface on top of your parking lot, a building permit is required if the finish surface is 30” or above grade.
  • If the finish surface is below 30”, a building permit is required for the accessible route to the area.
  • For more information about the permit review process, go here:

13. I am enclosing my parking lot with a temporary fence, do I need a building permit?

  • To enclose your parking lot to gather people, a Public/ Special Events permit from the Fire Marshal’s Office is required.
  • The application for this permit is here:

If you’ve got additional questions, please call Development Services at 503-823-7300 or email


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