Dining Out on Freedom: New Outdoor Opportunities for Sydney Hospitality Venues

With Sydney opening up and slowly getting back on its feet after a long winter slumber, it seems businesses will be given a few opportunities to make quicker, stronger comebacks. The previous temporary allowance for outdoor dining for small bars and pubs to use footpaths and public spaces for tables introduced in 2020, will now be made permanent. The NSW Government is investing $66 million into a series of initiatives aimed at increasing outdoor dining, activities, and events across the state. At the centre of the plan are several grants that will be given to restaurants and bars to improve their al fresco dining options, as announced by NSW Treasurer Matt Kean.

The $66 million dollar ‘Alfrescro Restart Package’ is being rolled out in November and breaks down into 4 main initiatives:

  • The Festival of Place – including the Long Summer Nights Program at the Rocks, Darling Harbour and The Domain, Streets as Shared Spaces Program, Summer Night Fund Program and Open Streets Program;
  • Emergency temporary alfresco measures for outdoor dining in parks or on private land with the owner’s consent; and
  • $5,000 grants to up to 5,000 hospitality businesses to establish new alfresco settings; and
  • Permanent outdoor dining as an exempt development for pubs and small bars state-wide.

The Festival of Place will take place in the CBD and surrounding suburbs to inject life back into public spaces after the 4-month lockdown. Local streets will be invigorated with much awaited attractions such as murals, art installations, laneway cinemas and more – jumpstarting a 24-hour economy.

The new dining plan will give businesses the opportunity to develop outdoor seating arrangements and to serve food and drinks, with a 6-month exemption to expand onto private land such as carparks, bowling greens and otheropen spaces. To help small business make the most of these changes, the government will be handing $5,000 grants to the first 5,000 businesses on a “first in, first serve” basis (subject to qualifications). This can go towards improving outdoor arrangements including weather protection, lighting, temporary ground surfaces and additional furniture. Councils across the state will also be offering up to $500,000 in grants to improve high streets and surrounding areas. Outdoor dance floors, live music, theatre and comedy shows will be rolled out across The Rocks, Darling Harbour and the Domain this Summer.

Now we can get a taste of the European al fresco experience here in Sydney.

The City of Sydney has pre-approved 266 al fresco dining sites already. 189 of the successful applicants will be permitted to have on-footpath dining, while 77 will be able to host dinners through reimagined road space.

A council survey found that 90% of businesses that had al fresco dining applications approved said the change benefited their businesses, and more than half (58 %) said they saw turnover increase by more than 10%.

What exactly does this all mean for you business? Well, these changes mean that it will be easier, faster and cheaper for your business to recover from the lockdown as there is no need for a planning approval to have outdoor dining.

All venues must seek landowner or council approval to have outdoor dining. If on council land, outdoor dining is considered against the related council’s outdoor dining policies and guidelines. Other approvals are also needed under the Roads Act 1993 (NSW), the Local Government Act 1993 (NSW), and ancillary changes to liquor licences issued under the Liquor Act 2007 (NSW) may also be required, depending on the circumstances.

Although businesses must still apply for approval of these outdoor dining arrangements, the red tape has been reduced to a great degree. For example:

  • A fast-tracked approval process is in place for premises wanting to temporarily change their liquor licence boundary to include new outdoor space, and Liquor & Gaming NSW (L&GNSW) has approved applications within 3 days (instead of 51 days) and waived application fees.  
  • The State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt and Complying Development Codes) 2008 (Codes SEPP) was amended so that pubs and small bars were considered exempt development for outdoor dining purposes, bringing them into line with the existing arrangements in place for cafes and restaurants.   
  • Improvements have been made to the NSW Planning portal so that councils can use the service to further streamline the approval process. Councils could also choose to use their own application systems, if preferred.
  • The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) has also amended the Codes SEPP to allow additional outdoor dining areas as exempt development on public and private land, and land associated with a registered club. It will apply to all local government areas until 18 April 2022, after this point the measures will cease to operate. More information about these changes can be found on  DPIE’s website. 
  • Because these new type of outdoor dining approvals will no longer involve council approval, businesses wanting to take advantage of these changes can go directly to Liquor & Gaming NSW.

These fast-tracked processes will run until 30 June 2022. Now, approvals for outdoor dining can be processed more quickly and at a lower cost to pub and bar owners. An online portal was also developed to help speed up the application process, allowing councils to receive an online lodgement for outdoor dining.

Who is eligible to apply:

  • Cafes, bars, restaurants, and cultural venues that already have an outdoor dining permit can apply to:
  • change their current permit so they can potentially trade for more hours and extend their dining space
  • take over car parking space for outdoor dining.
  • Cafes, bars, restaurants, and cultural venues that currently don’t trade outdoors and that serve food for eating at the premises can apply for:
  • a footpath dining permit
  • take over car parking space for outdoor dining.


The Assessment Criteria is as follows:

  • Is the venue within the City of Sydney local area and does it have development consent to serve food for eating at the premises?
  • How will your venue be able to accommodate patron safety and physical distancing?
  • Will the extension to your trading parameters still allow adequate access for pedestrians, residents and essential vehicles?
  • What will the impact be on local residents?
  • Does the business have a Covid safe plan? 


All sites will be subject to development standards to manage environmental impacts such as hours of operation, patron capacity, safety and waste management.

As a cherry on top, Dine and Discover vouchers are also back – everyone over the age of 18 will be receiving 2 vouchers each – another incentive of the government to encourage economic growth.

We can help you take the guess work out of all this and ensure your business is ready to take on the future of hospitality. Contact our office today to get started.


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