United States Fire Administration
Restaurants have struggled to stay in business during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that restrictions are slowly lifting and seating capacity increases inside and outside, restaurants face several challenges that may involve life safety and fire and building codes.
As indoor seating capacity increases in restaurants, some locations are installing plexiglass shields and walls as safety measures. Restaurants are changing table layouts to put more space between patrons, creating what one Philadelphia restaurant owner calls a jigsaw puzzle of tables.
Outdoor seating is now a crucial part of many restaurant survival plans but colder Fall temperatures will make outdoor dining more difficult. Many restaurants are extending the season as much as possible with space heaters, tents, igloos and “space bubbles.” Installing these structures can be costly.
Baltimore helped eating establishments meet some of the financial challenges of outdoor dining by waiving fees associated with inspections and permits for tent and heater usage and committing to a 3-day permit processing turnaround. Any financial break benefits these establishments, especially when they’re looking at the added costs of tents, heating and plexiglass.
Remind restaurant owners about codes requirements
Many restaurants have worked with inspectors to be sure their plans meet codes, but some may not have. Your jurisdiction should consider contacting restaurant owners to discuss the following:
- Some restaurants took over parking lot space to create outdoor seating where none existed before. Does this affect staging or access for apparatus?
- For locations using propane space heaters, where are the propane tanks stored? Does the staff know how to properly handle the units? Are units a safe distance from tent walls or furnishings?
- If the restaurant is placing heaters in tents (or “space bubbles”), do they vent fumes properly?
- Do new indoor seating or plexiglass layouts affect egress or block exits or signs?
- How will plexiglass walls affect fire attack or ventilation?
- Some cities are closing streets to accommodate outside dining. In some cases these road closures change day-to-day. How will this affect emergency vehicle traffic and response times?