All operators are acutely aware that outdoor seating is an essential way to increase capacity and therefore revenue during the summer months, and the careful use of outdoor heaters can prolong the season for alfresco dining even further. The right to use outside seating space for the correct number of covers is a valuable one. When taking on a new outlet you need to be careful to negotiate the rights you need to use outside space. They will also add value if you sell the unit on with those rights in place.

In our previous article about understanding your rights for outdoor seating we looked at how best to negotiate and document rights over outside space when entering into a lease for a new outlet.

In this article we look at the licences and permissions you will need if the outside space at your property forms part of the public highway rather than being privately owned. Every council can set its own fees for pavement licences – costs can be high and can impact on your profits.

Public Highway

If you want to put tables and chairs outside your outlet the first question you need to ask is whether the land is public highway or privately owned. If the land is privately owned (e.g. your beer garden) then permission is not usually required. However, even if it is private land, if the public have unfettered access across the land, it may be “deemed highway” and a pavement cafe licence and possibly planning permission will be required to put tables and chairs on the land.

Applying for a pavement licence

The application process will depend from council to council although the factors you should consider in assessing the suitability of the seating area might include factors such as:

  • will there be enough room for pedestrians to pass;
  • are the tables far enough away from public transport points (e.g. tube stations, bus stops);
  • will the pavement be blocked e.g. because of street furniture etc;
  • will there be enough space for people to pass in between the tables;

When looking at an application for a pavement cafe licence councils will look at many factors including:

  • the potential noise created by outdoor seating;
  • visual impact particularly in a conservation area;
  • whether furniture will be taken in at night;
  • passing widths.

When applying for a pavement licence you will need to submit the documentation required by your local council which will be as a minimum a copy of your plans for your site, the required fee and a copy of your public liability insurance.

Pavement Licence – standard conditions

A pavement licence will often include standard conditions on the use of outdoor seating – e.g. requirement for specific width of pedestrian access and often removal of all furniture and specific storage requirements at closing time. Again each council will have its own standard requirements. Check that you can comply with these, as a breach of them is likely to lead to the removal of outdoor furniture by the council.

Planning permission

In some cases planning permission will be needed to seat customers outside and this may depend on what works you need to carry out to make your outdoor seating area. It will also depend on your local council and it would therefore be prudent to discuss with your local authority whether planning permission will be needed.

Check your premises licence

When considering putting tables and chairs outside you should also check the provisions of your premises licence as some licences specifically state that food and drink may not be consumed in any external area. You may need an amendment to your licence to enable you to sell alcohol for consumption at pavement tables.


The legislation gives a council the power to charge “such reasonable charges as they may determine” for pavement licences. Rather than encouraging the cafe culture, and the benefits this brings to many town centres with already flagging high streets, some councils currently seem to regard pavement licences as an easy way of making money. You should check the fee payable to your local council and work out whether it makes business sense to have pavement seating and, if so, how much.

Licence renewal

Licences are usually granted for one year which means that you will need to remember to renew the licence each year. The licence fee is paid annually on renewal.

Further information

The Government’s website is a good place to start when researching the relevant highway consent application process for your area. SEE MORE

You may also like – Are your rights to use your pub garden secure?

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.