COVID-19 Update: Inside Colorado Restaurant Draft Reopening Rules

There are plenty of restrictions in the draft guidelines for reopening Colorado restaurants.
Evan Semón
There are plenty of restrictions in the draft guidelines for reopening Colorado restaurants.
On May 19, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released proposed guidelines for restaurant reopenings under the state's Safer at Home program to fight COVID-19.

The draft, which stakeholders including eatery owners and customers can comment on through May 22, is a relatively simple document: just three pages of basic requirements. But they contain plenty of information about what restaurateurs will likely need to do in order to begin offering on-site dining again, and what patrons should expect from the dining experience.

Here's a basic breakdown of the suggested rules, divided into three categories: space, employees and customers (without details about businesses offering service for pick-up only, which basically reiterate edicts already in place). They cover "indoor and outdoor on-premise dining," and dovetail with comments Governor Jared Polis made during his May 18 press conference.


The guidelines note that restaurants in Colorado "may continue curbside pick-up/delivery, including alcohol pick-up/delivery" — an allowance put in place during the stay-at-home order that was intended to help establishments remain profitable. As for outside dine-in service, it can be "held with limited capacity, TBD based on the science" if there's a gap of eight feet between parties, as measured table to table. Moreover, all employees are required to wear facial coverings and gloves, and all shared surfaces must be sanitized and deep-cleaned between seatings.

For indoor dine-in service, the document doesn't offer a specific capacity, again stating that limitations are to be determined. But they, too, will require eight feet of spacing between parties, as well as facial coverings and use of gloves by employees, and sanitization and deep-cleaning each time a table is turned over. Another must: proper ventilation following guidance from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Parties dining inside are limited to six people or fewer in the draft, and restaurants are advised to reduce congregating inside and outside the business by "encouraging reservations, and preferably only utilizing a reservation system if feasible; no communal seating; no self-service stations or buffets; no seat-yourself options; no bar seating if the bar is being used for food or beverage service (if it’s not being used for service then parties could sit there under the same requirements as a regular table); clearly mark floor and ground for queue spacing and foot traffic suggestions; place pylons, table tents or clearly marked decor or signage on tables not available for seating customers."

Signage should notify patrons and employees of what are described as "hygiene and sanitation expectations, including not entering if they are experiencing any symptoms," the guidelines continue. In addition, restaurants are instructed to "remove/close games and dance floors that require or encourage standing around," including darts, pool tables, shuffleboard, arcade games or board games, switch from standard tablecloths to single-use coverings unless workers can remove and replace table cloths between parties, provide hand sanitizer throughout the venue, and clean and disinfect any "shared objects" such as menus between uses. Alternatives for typical menus include single-use descriptions, boards from which customers can pick their selections, and "online menus for guests to review from their electronic device."

Moreover, restrooms should be sanitized every thirty minutes, with stalls and urinals blocked off to allow for at least six feet of distancing between customers. "This may require reduced bathroom capacity or even only one person in a bathroom at a time," the guidelines state.

One more thing: On-site dining must end no later than 10 p.m.


The draft calls for workers to have their temperatures taken daily, in addition to monitoring any symptoms of illness. Staffers who seem to be getting sick should be referred to the CDPHE's symptom tracker, and employees will be required to stay home if they show "any symptoms or signs of sickness."

Six-foot distancing of employees should be maintained "to the greatest extent possible," and they should wear gloves and facial coverings "during customer interactions and whenever possible during other activities." That goes for vendors, suppliers and contract workers, too. Hand-washing breaks should be encouraged at least every thirty minutes, along with "strict adherence to the hygienic practices listed in the Colorado Retail Food Regulations," including changing of gloves between "tasks" and donning a fresh pair after each hand-washing.

Interactions of employees need to be limited by way of staggering shift changes and breaks, the draft rules continue, and staff meetings should allow for social distancing when they can't be conducted virtually. Additionally, the CDPHE suggests that owners consider "modifying the menu to create additional space in the kitchen and promote social distancing." Disposable cups should be used for drinking as opposed to employees bringing in water bottles, and "family meals or shift meals should not be consumed onsite."


The draft recommends that restaurateurs provide "an option for customers to 'sign in' to facilitate notifying them if an exposure occurs," as well as utilizing "a reservation system as much as possible to help aid in contact tracing." Contactless payment options are encouraged whenever possible, and patrons should be asked to wait outside, a safe distance away from other customers, until they can be seated.

The health department also calls for the restriction of "standing and/or congregating in the bar area, entrance/exit and any interior spaces" and the requirement of facial coverings on customers "when not eating or drinking, i.e. walking past other tables to get to the delivery." Businesses should "consider refusing service to customers who refuse to adhere to hygiene and social-distancing guidelines (restrictions based off of denial-of-service guidelines for alcohol)." In other words, unmasked space invaders should be treated like people who've consumed too much liquor.

If there is a confirmed case of the novel coronavirus among either customers or employees, the guidelines conclude, "the restaurant must notify and cooperate with their local public health agency on next steps."

Click to read the Colorado restaurant draft guidelines for reopening and to access an online comment form.