Outdoor seating and pavement licences

Attention all restaurant, bar and pub owners. Summer now seems to be in full swing, and customers often pick where to drink and dine, based purely on whether they can sit outdoors to enjoy the warmer weather.

Here are some top tips to keep on the right side of the law when offering outside drinking and dining:

Who owns the pavement (or the outside area)?
Unless you own the outside area, or it is demised to you under your lease, you may need:

  • A pavement licence (also known as a “tables and chairs licence” or a “highways licence”). This applies if the outside area is on the pavement used by pedestrians, which will usually be an adopted highway, maintained by the local authority.

Do you need planning permission for outdoor seating?

  • Some councils also require a planning application for change of use and it’s best to check with the local authority in question, as policies differ from council to council.

Does your Premises Licence allow outdoor seating?
Check your Premises Licence as it may have conditions restricting your use of outdoor areas to certain times, or, at all. 

You also need to check that your proposed outdoor space is included in the area shown on your licensing plan for the consumption of alcohol.

Alternatively, you need to ensure that your premises licence allows off-sales of alcohol. If you have neither off-sales, nor a licensed outside area, then you will need to make an application to vary your premises licence.

Do you need a licence for customers to go outside and smoke?
If the outside space caters for standing customers only (e.g. to smoke) you do not need a pavement licence, but you still need to be aware of any restrictions on your premises licence such as a limitation in the number of customers that can be outside your premises at the same time.  Outside dining, smoking or drinking can also make your premises vulnerable to complaints from residents about noise, obstruction and litter.

How do you get a Pavement Licence?
If a pavement licence is required, you will need to submit an application to the council’s highways department and possibly the planning department too.  Grant of a pavement licence is entirely discretionary.  You may be required to display a notice at the premises for a set period, including details of the application.  Apply in good time because some local authorities take up to 3 months to give a decision and will also take into account any objections that they may receive.  Any refusal should be accompanied by written reasons.

How long do Pavement Licences last?
Pavement licences usually last 12 months, but may be shorter.  They should be renewed in advance of the expiry date on the licence.

The above is a brief guide to the complex area of outdoor seating and pavement licences. It is intended as a general guide only and should not be relied upon as specific legal advice. For detailed legal advice on outdoor seating and pavement licences please contact us.



Alistair McArthur
Partner, Head of Employment
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This reflects the law and market position at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought in relation to a specific matter.

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