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Outdoor Patio Design Guidelines

This information is intended as a general guide in the preparation and review of applications to install outdoor patios in Ottawa. It is a compilation of the legislation, policies and regulations, which pertain to outdoor patio restaurants at the time of its publication.

Example of a Patio 1 Example of a Patio 2 Example of a Patio 3 Example of a Patio 4

The guidelines outline some basic principles for the planning and design of outdoor patios associated with restaurants, bars and nightclubs throughout the city. They address the range of local and site-specific situations that may be encountered when locating an outdoor patio, whether in a rural, urban, or suburban setting.

They start with a general survey of land use relationships, and then to the place of patios within the public realm of streets and open spaces and finally to the specific details of patio design. They are applied to Encroachment Permit applications in the public realm, and through the Zoning and Site Plan Control process on private land.

Project team:

Project Manager: Charles Lanktree
MCIP, RPP, OALA, Urban Designer

Team Member: Randolph Wang
MCIP, RPP, Urban Designer

Design Details

Sidewalk Patio

The design of the interior and immediate surroundings of a sidewalk patio should adhere to the following guidelines.

  • The clear height from grade level to any obstruction such as an overhead canopy should be a minimum of 2.13 metres (7 ft.).
  • The surface area of an outdoor patio may not exceed the interior floor area of the restaurant. (L.C.B.O. - licensed premises)
  • Maintain a minimum of one metre clear path to the door of the restaurant. (L.C.B.O. – licensed premises)
  • The patio should not extend beyond the frontage of the restaurant.
  • Provide a ramp for handicapped access within an elevated patio where grades allow. Where grades do not allow a permanent ramp, a portable ramp should be made available on request and a sign noting this should be posted. Alternatively, a sign should be posted indicating that access from within the premises is available.
  • A handrail made of material, which is non-abrasive and splinter-proof should be provided along both sides of the ramp.


While it is preferable to maintain the patio surface at the same grade as the public sidewalk, a deck structure may be used where the slope exceeds 4% or where the height of the doorway to the building is more than .15 metre (.5 feet) above grade.

  • Where the patio is elevated above grade on a structure the height to the deck surface above grade must be no higher than 2 metres (6.5 ft.).
  • Elevated decks should be setback at a ratio of 2:1 (horizontal to vertical) with a maximum height of .45 metres (1.5 feet) and a minimum height of .15 metres (.5 feet) at the sidewalk.
  • All decking or platforms should be sectional so as to be easily removable for storage off-site.
  • Platforms should be supported by posts or ground beams, which meet the requirements of the Ontario Building Code.
  • The platform structures should not obstruct site drainage.
  • Skirting should be applied to the exposed side of the platform to screen structural elements.
  • All exposed materials should be painted or stained to coordinate with streetscape elements.
  • A ramp should be provided within the deck at a maximum slope of 1:12 (8%) over a maximum length of 9 metres (30 ft.) – (Ontario Building Code). A non-abrasive handrail should be provided on both sides of the ramp. Alternately, a sign should be posted indicating that access from within the premises is available.


Fences or railings are used to delineate and contain the patio.

  • A fence or other vertical barrier must be used to delineate the perimeter of the patio area where alcohol is being served (L.C.B.O., Encroachment By-law).
  • The width of any opening in a fence should be no greater than 2 meters (6.5 ft.) and no less than 1 metre (3.28 ft.).
  • The required height of a fence facing the street is 1.06 metres (3.5 ft.) (L.C.B.O. - licensed premises). Side screens may be up to 2.0 metres (6.5 ft) high above the grade or platform level. Such screens should not be entirely opaque but may be formed by structures with lattice or grillwork and climbing vines.
  • Fences and screens should be easily removable at all times.
  • Supporting structural members should not project to obstruct the platform surface.
  • Structures should be stored off-site outside of the permit period.
  • The design, materials and colours used in the development of the patio restaurant should be of high quality finish and compatible with the streetscape.
  • All finishes should be clean and free of any exposed screws or other fasteners.
  • Perimeter fences should not obstruct the line of sight for pedestrians and drivers.


Awnings can be used to provide shade and weather protection for the patio as well as visual screening from adjacent uses.

  • Materials should be securely fastened to a frame, which is either retractable or demountable.
  • Sheltering material should be fabricated and finished to fit the supporting structure with no loose or unsecured edges.
  • Materials and colours should coordinate with the surrounding buildings and streetscape elements. They should generally contribute to the design theme of the street.
  • The awning should not extend into the public sidewalk adjacent to the patio.
  • The awning should attach to the building below the signage identifying the restaurant with a minimum height of 2.13 metres (7 ft.).
  • Lighting and other attachments to the awning should be securely fixed and integrated to the supporting structure.
  • A building permit is required for awnings.


Enclosures may be used for more extensive weather protection and to extend the patio season.

  • Enclosures must include a minimum of one continuous opening (from ground to canopy) to the outside (ie. no roll-down walls of any kind) that comprises at least 25% of the total perimeter of all of the patio walls.
  • The enclosure area should be well ventilated to provide for dispersion of smoke and exchange of air.
  • Ventilation should be directly to the exterior and may be achieved by passive means through vents in the awning and/or active fans.
  • Cash machines should not be located within the patio area, except where enclosed within a freestanding building or kiosk.
  • A building permit is required for the construction of an enclosure.


Lighting is important to the function and appearance of a patio as well as the safety and security of the public environment.

  • Exterior lighting should not spill into abutting private property or interfere with the public thoroughfare.
  • Lighting should be demountable with no exposed cables or energized fixtures.
  • Lighting design should coordinate with patio furnishings and streetscape design.
  • Lighting may be used to add colour and animation to the patio space.
  • Lighting should not be attached to trees or shrubs on City property.
  • Lighting should be used to identify the entrance to a patio.
  • Pathways through a patio should be illuminated to ensure the safety of patrons and staff.

Plant Materials

As in all other parts of our city, plant materials contribute to our general comfort and enjoyment of the patio experience.

  • The City’s Surface Operations Branch, Public Works and Services Department must approve the permanent planting or removal of vegetation within the street right of way.
  • Planting of annuals, vines and container-grown vegetation is encouraged but should be easily removable from the site.
  • Planters should be integral with fence and deck structures to maintain a compatible design relationship.
  • Deciduous shade trees enhance the quality of the patio space with shade and screening.
  • Planting should be used along with spatial separation and structures to screen a patio from adjacent vehicle parking and circulation.
  • Planters must not obstruct the public right of way.


Signage can contribute to the order and coherence of the public right of way where it is discretely integrated into the patio design.

  • Private advertising is generally not permitted on City property.
  • If a menu card is to be displayed, it should be located at the entrance to the patio and clearly visible from the sidewalk.
  • Signage should not obstruct the public right of way.
  • A-frame signs are not permitted outside of the patio area.
  • Signage should reflect the design theme of the patio.

Surface Treatment

The paving of the patio surface provides a durable and attractive platform for the patio, which is distinct from the public right of way.

  • Paving should be durable, skid-proof and easily maintained in a clean and unobstructed condition.
  • On private property the paving material should be similar to the adjacent public sidewalk but should be distinctive in colour and/or texture to demarcate the property boundary.
  • The minimum slope of pavement should be 1% and the maximum slope 4% within the seating area.
  • A change in elevation may be used to define the edge of a patio, but should not create an additional barrier to movement.


The design of the service area is important to the quality of service provided and the orderly appearance of the patio.

  • Maintain the doorway to the restaurant interior open and unobstructed at all times.
  • Keep aisles open for safe movement of patrons and staff.
  • Garbage containers are not permitted within the patio area but portable service carts may be used for collection and transport to the interior restaurant.
  • Service carts should be located in an alcove or other recessed area adjacent to the patio, which does not interfere with the movement of staff or patrons.

General Design Principles

Example of Patio 5 Example of Patio 6 Example of Patio 7

The following points are the key principles that should be considered in the planning and design of outdoor patios.

  • Maintain primacy of the public right of way for pedestrian and vehicular movement.
  • Ensure a compatible relationship of patio design and construction with adjacent streetscape elements and building architecture.
  • Maintain barrier-free access for persons with disabilities.
  • Provide required access to public utilities and service connections.
  • Provide access for emergency, service and delivery vehicles.
  • Maintain a safe, secure and comfortable environment for pedestrians.
  • Mitigate any possible harmful impacts on adjacent land uses.
  • Enhance the vitality of the street environment.

Land Use Relationships

The relationship of outdoor patios to other sensitive land uses is important due to the potential impacts of light and noise. The following criteria should be considered when locating a new patio:

  • A separation distance of 30 metres (100 ft) should be maintained to a property zoned Residential.
  • Rooftop patios, which are elevated more than 2 meters above grade, should generally not be permitted adjacent to residential areas and other sensitive land uses due to the increased potential to project impacts of light and noise over a larger area.
  • Patios in mixed-use areas should be screened or separated physically from sensitive uses in proximity.
  • Patios are most successful when they can be clustered together in one location or strung-out along a sunny street frontage.

 Land Use Relationship
Figure 4: Land Use Relationship

 Sound Attenuation
Figure 5: Sound Attenuation

 Separation in Mixed Use Areas
Figure 6: Separation in Mixed Use Areas

Figure 9 Residential Adjacent 
Figure 9 Residential Adjacent 


Patio at Building Facade

The most common location is at the front of the restaurant along the street, extending from the building façade to the edge of the sidewalk.

  • The optimum clear width of public sidewalk abutting an outdoor patio is 2.4 metres. This width may be reduced to a minimum of 1.8 metres where site constraints do not allow the optimum width.
  • The alignment of the public sidewalk should remain straight within the right of way.
  • Add .5 metre (1.6 ft.) to sidewalk width within 9 metres (30 ft.) of an intersection to provide for increased pedestrian volumes.

Kiosk with Patio in Boulevard

This is a freestanding patio with a self-enclosed kiosk, which houses the food preparation, cleaning, cash and storage functions.

  • The optimum clear width of public sidewalk abutting an outdoor patio is 2.4 metres. This width may be reduced to a minimum of 1.8 metres where site constraints do not allow the optimum width.
  • Keep a minimum of 1 metre back from the curb.
  • Keep one metre back from the corner of a building at an intersection.

Patio in Pedestrian Mall

These may be oriented to a building face or freestanding with a kiosk.

  • Maintain a 6 metre clear width for pedestrians and emergency vehicles.
  • A straight alignment of the pedestrian path should be maintained along the mall.
  • The location of trees, lighting and other street furniture should be maintained to assist in defining the extent of the patio.

Patio on Rooftops

Rooftop patios are elevated more than 2 metres above grade and may be accessed directly from the restaurant in a building. These patios should generally not be permitted adjacent to residential zones and other sensitive uses due to the greater potential to project impacts of light and noise over the surrounding community. However, where advantageous site conditions exist to alleviate impacts, a rooftop patio may be permitted. In these situations the following criteria should be considered.

  • Rooftop patios should not be visible from a property zoned Residential.
  • Use the mass of a building or other structure to shield a rooftop patio from adjacent properties zoned Residential.
  • Separate rooftop patios spatially from sensitive uses, such as residential dwellings, offices, schools, places of worship etc.
  • Maintain an unobstructed surface for passage from the interior of the restaurant to the patio. A portable ramp should be available on demand to traverse an obstacle if it cannot be removed.

Patio in Parking Lot

These are found adjacent to an off-street parking lot or vehicle circulation route.

  • Patios should be separated from parking by planted islands and/or medians in the parking lot.
  • Pedestrian access should be from a plaza walkway along the face of the building or directly to the street
  • A clear minimum width of 1.5 metres (5 feet) should be maintained for pedestrian movement from the parking lot or street to a patio.
  • A patio should be set back a minimum of 6 metres (20 feet) from a suburban arterial roadway.
  • A patio should be set back a minimum of 3 metres from a parking lot.


  1. Former City of Ottawa Zoning By law - 1998.
  2. A Sidewalk Design Policy - Central Area; Planning Branch, former City of Ottawa; 1979.
  3. Pedestrians Downtown: Ottawa Western Core Area; du Toit, Allsopp, Hillier; The City of Ottawa and the National Capital Commission, 1985.
  4. Boulevard Cafe Guidelines: Toronto; City of Toronto, Planning and Development Department, 1989.
  5. City of Ottawa Encroachment By-law.
  6. City of Ottawa Signs By-law.
  7. City of Ottawa Signs on City Roads By-law