Infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon has written to all councils asking them to temporarily take a flexible and pragmatic planning approach to the use of on-street seating for bars and cafes.
Beer gardens and similar outdoor areas should enjoy special dispensation to accommodate social distancing, she said.
Planning permission will not normally be required for the temporary positioning of chairs and tables on the pavement outside pubs, cafes and similar venues but each case and situation will be considered on its merits, the minister said.
Businesses are having to change the way they serve their customers in our new normalNichola Mallon
She said: “Businesses and workers across the North are now planning how they can get back to work safely and how they can adjust to the new challenges of Covid-19.
“For many customers, safety will be a big consideration and businesses are having to change the way they serve their customers in our new normal.
“With planning sitting directly in my department, I want to ensure we support councils and assure traders and businesses that there are no planning barriers to temporary changes.”
The hospitality industry has been pressing for permission to use more outdoor spaces when its members are allowed to reopen following the coronavirus lockdown.
There are concerns the two-metre social distancing rule could make many businesses unviable.
The Stormont Executive is to consider the matter further next week.