Top 4 risks when offering outdoor dining – and how to minimize them

Group of people in office attire enjoying lunch outside at a restaurant

Many restaurants are offering outdoor dining options on sidewalks, in adjacent open spaces, and in their own parking lots. Offering outdoor dining options at your restaurant comes with risk – here are the top 4 risks you should consider when opening an outdoor area.

Exits and emergency access

When deciding where to place your outdoor dining area you need to be diligent that you do not block any emergency exits or block the path of emergency responders to your restaurants, and any adjacent buildings.

Slips, Trips, and Falls

This risk should be very familiar for restaurant owners – but you need to consider how outdoor dining can increase this risk. Poor lighting, temporary cords, and eroded areas increase the risk that one of your staff, or a patron could slip, trip, and fall.

Outdoor Heaters

  • Not everyday is going to provide perfect weather for outdoor dining. Having outdoor heaters can help make this dining option more appealing on those chillier days. However, these come with a whole host of safety precautions:
  • Fire risk – never leave an outdoor heater unattended, especially if it is under a tent, yurt, or other structure. Speaking of structures – these need to be fire resistant and compliant with NFPA standards. Have fire extinguishers nearby and make sure employees are trained in their use.
  • Burn risk – make sure heaters are not placed too close to pathways and seating to help patrons and staff to avoid accidental burns, and to keep any flammable materials at a safe distance.
  • Carbon Monoxide risk – Do not place heaters to close to air vents, and make sure there is always sufficient ventilation and air circulation. Never use them inside.
  • Tipping risk – make sure you place heaters on firm, level surfaces to avoid having them tip over and cause damage or bodily harm.


Parking lots are a popular choice for outdoor dining when a patio is not an option. However, there is a lot to consider when deciding if, and which part of your parking lot to use.
Passing traffic – do not place your outdoor dining too close to traffic or anywhere someone could potential be struck. Set up visible barriers, wheel stops, and signs to notify motorists of the designated space.

ADA compliance – many restaurants want to use the parking closest to their building for their outdoor dining. This makes logical sense so waitstaff and patrons do not have far to walk. However, it is important not to block permit (wheelchair/disabled) parking spaces and to keep any ramp access points clear of obstruction.

It is best to have you outdoor approved by your local jurisdiction, which could be the fire department or the local building department.

Remember – whenever you make changes to your business it is always a good idea to contact your insurance advisor to ensure you have proper coverage!