Coronavirus (COVID-19) - Tips

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Outdoor Dining and Patios

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This tip sheet is for employers, employees and guests of restaurants that provide outdoor dining as an overview of potential hazards in the workplace due to COVID-19 and related control measures.

For general COVID-19 prevention practices, refer to these CCOHS documents:
Protect Yourself and Others from COVID-19
COVID-19 Health and Safety Planning for Employers
COVID-19 Prevention for Workers
COVID-19 Health and Safety Resources

Additional information can be found in the CCOHS COVID-19 Restaurants Tip Sheet.

Consider the Risks

The risk of contracting COVID-19 increases in situations where people are working in closed spaces (with poor ventilation), crowded places and around people from other households. Risk is higher in settings where these factors also include activities such as close-range conversations, singing, shouting or heavy breathing (e.g., exertion).

Working at a restaurant that provides outdoor dining, exposes workers to many of the above situations. COVID-19 transmission during these activities depends on the setting, the number of people, physical proximity, duration and type of interactions, and the effectiveness of health and safety measures put in place.

Employers should consider the following:

  • How to protect guests and employees? Conduct risk assessments of all job tasks and interactions with others.
  • What type of setting is it? Indoor settings can accumulate viruses when crowded or poorly ventilated. Outdoor spaces have natural ventilation and are lower risk. A large space where groups can easily keep the greatest possible distance (at least 2 metres) is preferable.
  • How many people will employees interact with and how close are the physical interactions? Transmission risks increase with close and frequent contact.
  • What kind of interactions will employees have? Train staff to keep the greatest distance possible (at least 2 metres) from others. Implement precautions when staff need to be within 2 metres of a co-worker or guest.
  • How long are the interactions? Evidence indicates that the person-to-person spread is more likely with longer contact. Train employees to keep interactions as short as possible.
  • Do employees and guests frequently have contact with high touch surfaces or objects? Remove objects from service or modify processes to be contactless and increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfection.
  • Are masks required for public places in your jurisdiction? Determine when and where masks must be worn (e.g., required unless drinking or eating). Check local public health authorities’ requirements and enforce them in your restaurant.
  • How many people are allowed in the restaurant at one time? Follow your jurisdictional occupancy limits to determine the number of guests allowed in your workplace. These limits may change as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves.
  • Are you anticipating or observing crowds in your restaurant? Make operational changes to avoid crowds as much as possible. Consider switching to accept reservations only or offer curbside pickup areas.

Each restaurant may have unique situations such as limited outdoor space or permit requirements. It is important for employers to assess the risks of COVID-19 transmission for their specific space and implement appropriate hazard controls using the hierarchy of controls (i.e., elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, personal protective equipment (PPE)). Use a layered approach when implementing the chosen combination of risk controls.

Be careful not to create new workplace hazards or negatively impact existing safety controls. Have a workplace COVID-19 safety plan to identify and implement control measures for those hazards. The plan should address as many aspects as possible. Review, communicate, post, and update the plan on a regular basis.

Outdoor dining may be considered less risky than dining indoors due to natural ventilation, however, the benefit of eating outdoors can be greatly reduced or eliminated if the outdoor dining area or structure is partially or completely enclosed. Allow air to flow freely through the outdoor dining space to maximize ventilation. Your jurisdiction may have requirements for outdoor dining spaces that need to be followed. For additional information consult federal and provincial public health websites.


  • Clearly communicate to your employees and guests any new practices and policies that may affect their experience.
  • In cold weather, inform guests to bring blankets and wear multiple layers of clothing to enjoy outdoor dining. Blankets should not be shared between people from different households.
  • Consider posting safety and operational changes online, through advertisements, and with notices at entrances.
  • Help guests understand the necessity of new protective measures, and that their dining experience might be different. Ask them to be considerate of your employees and others.
  • Consider using an online reservation system to help manage the number of guests and to reduce crowding in waiting areas. Provide a waiting area outdoors if it is safe to do so.
  • Post signs throughout the restaurant encouraging physical distancing, hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and cleaning and disinfecting of equipment.
  • Make sure communications are suitable for peoples’ reading level and language preference.

Engineering Controls

  • Provide hand washing stations or hand sanitizer dispensers (with minimum 60% alcohol content) in high traffic areas such as entrances, exits, service counters and breakrooms.
  • Install barriers to separate employees from guests where possible and appropriate making sure not to block mobility (i.e., emergency escape). Barriers should be appropriately sized and positioned to block respiratory droplets from being carried from person to person. Clean and disinfect barriers at least daily.
  • Install stanchions as well as floor and wall markings to create one-way pedestrian traffic routes, throughout the dining areas to manage the movement of people and to promote physical distancing and minimize cross-traffic.
  • Restrict access to certain areas that are reserved for employees only.
  • Reduce the number of surfaces that need to be touched to access the outdoor dining area and washrooms (e.g., install automatic doors or prop non-fire doors open).

Administrative Controls

These types of controls reduce risk through policies, procedures, and training. They rely on personnel management and compliance to be fully effective. Applied properly they can minimize coronavirus transmission. It is possible for COVID-19 to be spread by people who do not have any symptoms. When setting up controls, consider that everyone is potentially infected. Implementing and enforcing policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in outdoor dining places is critical to protecting employees and the public. Make sure to continue to review and update administrative controls as the pandemic evolves.

Staff and operational related changes

  • Implement (or update) a sickness policy, and make sure to add provisions due to COVID-19. Include procedures for employees, guests, and essential visitors (e.g., contractors, service providers, delivery drivers) to follow if they start feeling sick, have symptoms (even if mild), receive a positive COVID-19 test result, or if they find out they have been exposed to the coronavirus.
  • Encourage employees to only work at one location and assign cohort groups of employees to the same shifts every week if possible.
  • Stagger start, end, and break times to limit the number of employees at entrances and break rooms.
  • Cross-train employees so they are safely able to replace the duties of others.
  • Make sure essential roles such as supervisors, and first aid or emergency response team members are on each shift.
  • Minimize contact for employees reporting to work by simplifying the process as much as possible (e.g., prevent crowds at punch clocks by being flexible with clock in/out times).
  • Continue with safety and informational meetings but avoid gatherings of people where possible. Implement technology to conduct meetings virtually. If that option is not possible, gather in small physically distanced groups, preferably outdoors or in large well-ventilated locations. Maintain the greatest possible physical distance and wear masks as necessary.
  • Remove communal coat check services. Allow employees to store their personal items separately or in sealed bins or bags if they do not have lockers.
  • Discourage unnecessary physical contact such as hugs, handshakes, and high fives.
  • Consider on-line reservations and staggered dining times, to control crowds.
  • Ask guests to remain seated for the duration of their dining experience and instruct them to wear a mask or respirator when they get out of their seats.

Physical distancing

  • Create and enforce a physical distance policy for your operations. Communicate these requirements to all people entering your facility.
  • Follow the occupancy limits required by your jurisdiction. Set up dining areas at least 2 meters apart. Seat groups to provide the greatest distance possible between them.
  • Limit the number of people allowed in washrooms at one time. Configure the space to have alternating sinks, stalls, and urinals out of service if they are within 2 metres of each other.
  • Do not allow guests to re-arrange seating such as moving chairs or tables closer together.
  • Leave one seat location at each table empty to allow the server access to the table. Deliver food and beverages to the edge of the table at this open spot.
  • Ensure that servers have ample room to move between tables without coming close to guests.
  • If standing is allowed, create separate physical distancing zones (by having markings on the floor). Encourage guests to stay inside their zones and to avoid interacting with others outside of their zone.
  • Plan for how people will maintain physical distance during emergency evacuations.
  • Block off some seating areas (e.g., waiting areas) to promote physical distancing between people.
  • Prepare for exceptions to distancing guidance such as for anyone rescuing a distressed person, providing first aid, or performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Mask wearing

Proper mask wearing helps to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

  • Implement a mask wearing policy. Communicate these requirements to all employees and guests. Make sure the policy complies with local public health authority recommendations.
  • The policy should include when, where and which type of mask is required to be worn.
  • Require employees to properly wear well-constructed and well-fitting masks. Masks should cover the nose, mouth, and chin without gaps.
  • Masks should not be worn by anyone who is unable to remove the mask without assistance.
  • Inform employees of the limitations with masks. Include the fact that improper mask use and disposal can increase the risk of infection.
  • For some people, not being able to see the other person’s face and mouth clearly may cause difficulties. Consider using a transparent mask, if appropriate.
  • Train staff and post signs reminding people to:
    • Change their mask if it becomes wet or soiled
    • Carry additional fresh masks
    • Store soiled reusable masks in a clean container (launder masks before re-use)
    • Avoid touching the outside of the mask while wearing and removing it (touch straps only)
    • Wash (or sanitize) their hands with soap and water before and after putting it on or taking it off

Screening and contact tracing

  • Screen all individuals at entrances. Questions should include current symptoms (if any), recent travel and potential COVID-19 exposures (templates are available from your local public health authority or occupational health and safety (OHS) organizations).Those who do not pass the screening should not be allowed to enter the restaurant or dining areas.
  • Establish procedures for people that do not pass screening or become sick while dining. They should wear a mask (if not already doing so), return home, preferably not by public transit, and call their health care provider or local public health authority for further instruction.
  • Log all employee, guests, and essential visitors who enter the building. This record may be required for contact tracing. If requested, provide the information only to local public health authorities. Make sure that privacy is protected, and that the information is stored and destroyed in a safe and secure manner, as required by privacy laws.

Personal hygiene

  • Hand wash and sanitizer stations should be well stocked and easy to find near the entrance and other appropriate areas. Make sure they are accessible to persons with disabilities.
  • Everyone should perform hand hygiene when entering and exiting the restaurant, after using washrooms, before and after touching shared objects and surfaces and after contact with another person.
  • Encourage good respiratory etiquette. Post signs to showing good technique, such as sneezing or coughing into a tissue or into the bend of their arm instead of their hands.
  • Encourage use of tissues and other means to prevent the spread of bodily fluids.
  • Immediately dispose of used tissues in lined garbage cans and follow up with hand hygiene.

Outdoor Structures and Weather Considerations

  • Obtain required permits, if required, before putting up an outdoor structure. Follow all manufacturer instructions and local regulations (fire and building codes) to ensure the structure is safe to use.
  • Be aware and follow municipal requirements regarding the number of open sides the structure must have and distance it must be from other structures.
  • Make sure the structure is capable of withstanding high winds, inclement weather, and snow without collapsing. Check the structure regularly to ensure it is still safe and stable.
  • Public property should not be damaged when installing the structure(s) i.e., do not anchor directly into sidewalks or streets.
  • If outdoor dining space is completely enclosed (e.g., tents), make sure it is properly ventilated and is large enough for the planned number of tables and seats.
  • Ensure that single-party enclosures are thoroughly ventilated between parties.
  • Do not seat people in outdoor dining areas during inclement weather.
  • Follow municipal snow removal requirements for outdoor dining spaces.
  • Make sure to keep walkways and entrances to the outdoor dining spaces free of slip and trip hazards and other obstructions.

Space Heaters

  • Fuel-based heaters should not be used under any covered spaces (e.g., pergola, awning, tent), because they create a carbon monoxide poisoning and fire risk.
  • Only use heaters that have been certified by nationally recognized organizations such as Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA).
  • Train staff on the safe installation, placement, storage, and operation of the heater including refueling procedures, electrical cord management and emergency responses.

Cleaning and Disinfection

Follow safe practices for general cleaning and disinfection guidance.

  • Restaurants should focus on door handles, seats and tables, food and drink preparation equipment, waste and recycling bins, touch screens, payment pads, cash machines and frequently used office equipment (e.g., pens, tools, phones, radios, keyboards, mice, etc.).
  • High transmission risk objects and surfaces should be disinfected between users or multiple times a day. Alternatively, make those objects single use.
  • Use a disinfectant or bleach solution to destroy or inactivate the virus. Use a disinfectant with a drug identification number (DIN), meaning it has been approved for use in Canada.
  • Train all employees on the safe use of all disinfectants and cleaners. Refer to product labels and Safety Data Sheets for details.
  • Ensure washrooms are cleaned and disinfected frequently, have running water and soap, and a plastic lined waste container.

It is important that mental health resources and support are provided to all workers, including access to an employee assistance program, if available.

For further information on COVID-19, refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Note that this guidance is just some of the adjustments organizations can make during a pandemic. Adapt this list by adding your own good practices and policies to meet your organization’s specific needs.

Disclaimer: As public and occupational health and safety information is changing rapidly, local public health authorities should be consulted for specific, regional guidance. This information is not intended to replace medical advice or legislated health and safety obligations. Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.

Document last updated April 13, 2021