Dine-Out Downtown

Temporary Outdoor Dining Policy

This policy is intended to be in effect until December 31, 2020 and is needed to provide vital support to businesses that have experienced a drastic decline in customers and income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 


(See Temporary Dining Application LINK at bottom of this page)

In accordance with Mayor Jim Strickland’s Back to Business Plan issued Monday, April 27, 2020, non-essential businesses within Memphis and Shelby County were permitted to re-open beginning Monday, May 4, 2020, so long as they adhere to and implement the COVID-19 Compliant Protocol as mandated by the City of Memphis. As a means to support our local restaurants, the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) and the City of Memphis have prepared an outdoor dining policy to allow for the temporary use of public space for commercial restaurant seating.

This policy is intended to be in effect until December 31, 2020 and is needed to provide vital support to businesses that have experienced a drastic decline in customers and income due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Policy Goals:

  • Assist Downtown restaurants by allowing the temporary use of outdoor space to expand seating capacity and make social distancing easier, especially for smaller restaurants.
  • Create a quick, predictable, easy-to-understand, and flexible approach that reduces red tape and lowers the barrier for Downtown businesses.
  • Improve the pedestrian experience and animate the public realm Downtown.


The Downtown Memphis Commission believes that our Downtown business community is a vital economic engine that ultimately helps the entire region prosper and grow. As businesses begin to reopen, we want to continue to foster an environment that is active, clean, safe and inclusive. The temporary use of outdoor space provides business owners with an opportunity for additional seating capacity while ensuring that social distance requirements are met.

When available, a restaurant should first look to expand outdoor dining on private property where the business is located. This can include private off-street parking lots or other portions of the site not occupied by a structure. Immediately adjacent private property could also be used for outdoor dining with the property owner’s written permission.

Private Parking Lots 
Downtown businesses may expand dining and retail areas to certain areas of private property not typically permitted for business activity, such as private outdoor areas and parking lots.

Up to 50% of the businesses’ off-street private parking spaces can be converted to outdoor dining space. Outdoor tables must be located a minimum of 6 ft apart and should not be located in a way that limits building accessibility or compromises safety of patrons or building occupants.

Required parking for disabled persons may not be replaced with outdoor dining.

Other Private Property
If available, privately-owned lots or property adjacent to the restaurant may be used for outdoor dining, with the property owner’s written permission.


The use of sidewalks and other public rights-of-way for outdoor dining has typically required special approval from the City of Memphis and a formal Encroachment Agreement with an annual fee. The City of Memphis is suspending these requirements and allowing businesses to temporarily use sidewalks for additional outdoor restaurant seating.

There is only a simple permit required for temporary outdoor dining that follows this policy (see form below). However, this policy may be revoked for any business that fails to comply with the criteria below.

General Requirements for All Outdoor Dining Areas in Public Right-of-Way

  • Outdoor dining areas must be designed to allow for pedestrian traffic and access to public utilities, building entrances, crosswalks, fire hydrants, sprinkler system connections, and similar infrastructure.
  • A 5ft. wide clear path must be maintained at all times for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • All temporary outdoor dining areas must be maintained clean of litter.
  • Tables and chairs must maintain a six-foot minimum separation from other tables and chairs and may be occupied by parties no larger than six.
  • Table umbrellas or similar shade coverings, if used, must be adequality weighted to remain safely in place during high winds. Umbrellas or similar shade coverings should not extend beyond the perimeter of the outdoor dining area and must have a minimum vertical clearance of 6 foot – 8 inches as measured from the lowest part of the umbrella to the sidewalk below.
  • Tables, chairs, and seats should be cleaned/sanitized after every customer.
  • Restaurants utilizing public property for outdoor dining under this policy must close the outdoor dining by no later than 10:00 PM each day.
  • No cooking, open flames, food preparation, or food storage/refrigeration is allowed on the public sidewalk or within the public right-of-way.
  • Restaurants are encouraged to designate the outdoor dining area as reservation-only to avoid overcrowding.
  • Outdoor dining patrons must be allowed inside the restaurant to use the public restroom and wash their hands.
  • Hand sanitizer should be made available to all patrons seated in the outdoor dining area.
  • Any signage must be approved by the Design Review Board (DRB) prior to installation.
  • This policy temporarily suspends the need to secure an encroachment agreement for use of public property for a restaurant to conduct business. Notwithstanding this temporary policy, each restaurant is still responsible for following all pertinent Police & Fire Department, Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC), Health Department requirements, and similar requirements.

Outdoor Dining Within Public Sidewalks

Temporary outdoor dining along public sidewalks is encouraged as long as the sidewalk is sufficiently wide to accommodate the seating and still function as a public sidewalk. Safe pedestrian access along the public sidewalk and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) must still be adhered to. In addition to the general requirements, the following additional standards apply to outdoor dining areas located on the public sidewalk.

  • The width of the area used for outdoor dining should not extend beyond the frontage of the business. Businesses choosing to utilize public space for operation must not encroach upon or in front of other businesses unless written permission has been obtained prior to installation.
  • Temporary, movable outdoor furniture may be utilized on the public sidewalk. Removable barriers to define the outdoor dining area are allowed, provided that the materials are not permanently affixed to the sidewalk or public right-of-way.
  • The use of temporary and movable landscaping planters is allowed and encouraged.
  • The City and the DMC reserve the right to require the removal of the Outdoor Dining area if necessary to maintain the safety of restaurant patrons, pedestrians, motorists, or the general public.

On-Street Parking Spaces

If private property is not available, a restaurant should first look to add temporary outdoor dining along the public sidewalk. If the sidewalk is not sufficiently wide to accommodate tables and chairs, it may be possible to temporarily close on-street parking spaces for use as temporary outdoor dining. Not every parking space will be a good candidate for this approach. Only a select number of spaces Downtown will be approved for outdoor dining use based on a variety of factors including parking demand, traffic volume and average speed, street width and cross-section, and compatibility with adjacent land uses and activities.

Restaurants interested in discussing this possibility should fill out the form below. Formal approval from the City of Memphis must be requested and received in order to temporarily bag the meters and allow outdoor dining in on-street spaces. Of utmost concern is providing adequate separation and buffer to protect restaurant patrons and staff from automobile traffic. A specific plan for how to create this buffer and barrier will be required.

The following general requirements will be in addition to the general requirements and any condition, necessary change, or revision to the plan as requested by the City of Memphis Engineering Division.

  • The outdoor dining area must be located in front of the restaurant.
  • The restaurant proposing an outdoor dining area must have the support of all immediately adjacent neighboring businesses.
  • Limited to no more than two (2) on-street spaces per restaurant.
  • Separation barriers to protect patrons from nearby vehicular traffic will be required. Examples include large planters, wood partitions, bollards, or similar moveable equipment or materials.
  • The City and the DMC reserve the right to require the removal of the Outdoor Dining area if necessary to maintain the safety of restaurant patrons, pedestrians, motorists, or the general public.

Responsibility Notice:
Restaurants participating in the temporary outdoor dining program on public property assume any and all liability regarding or related to the use of the outdoor dining space per this policy.  Restaurants participating in the temporary outdoor dining program must agree to and shall defend, indemnify, and hold the City and its agents, employees, officers, and legal representatives, harmless for all claims, causes of action, liabilities, fines, and expenses (including without limitation, attorneys’ fees, court costs, and all other defense costs and interest) for injury, death, damage, or loss to persons or property sustained in connection with or incidental to the use of any temporary outdoor dining space approved or otherwise allowed by the City pursuant to this policy.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. I’m ready to add outdoor dining for my restaurant! Do I need a permit or special approval to add temporary restaurant seating and tables to the sidewalk in front of my business?
A simplified permit is required.  Please complete the form below. This policy temporarily suspends the requirement to receive a special encroachment permit to use the sidewalk for outdoor dining. Under this policy, you can use the sidewalk for outdoor seating today as long as you follow the requirements listed in the policy.

2. How does the 6 ft. rule work for my outdoor dining area?
Each table needs to be 6 ft. away from other tables as measured from the back of each chair. People in the same party and seated at the same table do not have to be 6 ft. apart from one another!

3. If my sidewalk is not wide enough to accommodate tables and chairs, can I use on-street parking spaces for my outdoor dining area?
This may be possible, but you will need to request special permission from the City of Memphis Engineering Division before you set out the tables. The decision whether to temporarily bag the parking meters and allow an outdoor dining area within on-street parking spaces will be based on parking demand, traffic speed and volume, and other safety considerations.

4. Can I partner with a neighboring restaurant(s) to create a shared dining area for more than one restaurant?
Yes! Nothing in this temporary policy is intended to make it hard for neighboring restaurants to share outdoor space to support each business.

5. How long will this policy be in place?
This policy will continue through December 31, 2020. At that time, the City and DMC will reevaluate based on public health and economic development conditions.

6. Who do I contact with questions about this policy?
Please contact Brett Roler, 901-575-0574 or email roler@downtownmemphis.com

Apply for a Temporary Permit Here

Parklet Program – Volunteer Architects & Designers Needed

In addition to making it easier for restaurants to creatively use public space for outdoor dining, the DMC intends to design, fund, and build temporary parklets in a handful of select on-street parking spaces. These parklets will beautify the public realm, improve the pedestrian experience, encourage safe social distancing, and provide additional outdoor seating for take-out dining.

We’re looking for local architects and designers interested in volunteering to help design these parklets to help support our Downtown businesses during this challenging time. Does that sound like you? If it does, please reach out to Brett Roler at roler@downtownmemphis.com if you are interested in volunteering or learning more.

These parklets will serve as a test to evaluate the level of interest and demand for this kind of outdoor space. If successful, the DMC will work with the City to explore options for encouraging and permitting even more parklets in the future.