Arlington Restaurants Can Expand Outdoor Seating to Sidewalks and Parking Lots

The county will start taking Temporary Outdoor Seating Applications on Wednesday.

Crystal City in Arlington. Photograph by Andrew Propp

As Northern Virginia moves toward reopening on Friday, May 29, restaurants and bars in Arlington will be able to apply for temporary, extended outdoor seating permits for sidewalks, public spaces, and parking lots starting Wednesday. The new emergency ordinance for Temporary Outdoor Seating Applications (TOSAs) was passed unanimously by the Arlington County Board on Tuesday, and will allow for county staff to process the free applications. Businesses hoping to serve alcohol in these areas will then go through the state liquor board.  

Under Governor Ralph Northam’s regulations for phase one reopening, food and beverage establishments can serve customers in outdoor areas only at 50-percent capacity, spaced six feet or more apart, with the proper permits from the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority. Indoors, Governor Northam just announced a mandatory statewide mask policy in shops, salons, and modes of public transport—though not for restaurants.

Similar regulations to maximize outdoor seating are underway in the District,  which is also targeting a Friday reopening barring a spike in Covid-19 cases. Mayor Muriel Bowser is weighing legislation that would allow businesses and neighborhood organizations to apply for permits to extended food and alcohol sales to sidewalks and roadways. According to guidelines from the ReOpen DC advisory group, under phase one, restaurants may be allowed to serve customers in outdoor spaces only, allowing a maximum of six seated guests per table (no standing). The task force recommends that bars open later than restaurants—a tricky distinction in many cases that has yet to be clarified by the Mayor’s office.

Neighborhood organizations are already jumping in to help restaurants and bars reopen for outdoor seating. In DC, the Adams Morgan Commercial Development Coalition is devising a plan to “reinvent 18th Street“as a part-time pedestrian zone so that the neighborhood’s many food and beverage businesses can serve patrons.

In Arlington, the Rosslyn BID recently launched the “Rosslyn Ready” initiative to assist in safely reopening roughly 130 businesses. For bars and restaurants, that means online consultations and recommendations from strategy and design firm Streetsense in regards to capital management and operational adjustments, plus cleaning guidelines from Hillmann Consulting, a certified industrial hygienist. BID president Mary-Claire Burick says the group has already started evaluating public spaces that could be turned into outdoor service areas, and plans to help businesses batch their permit applications in certain areas on Wilson Boulevard or North Lynn Street to speed along the process.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.