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Your Restaurant 5 Star Certification Questions Answered

Restaurants are working hard to maintain safe and healthy dining rooms.EXPAND
Restaurants are working hard to maintain safe and healthy dining rooms.
Mark Antonation
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On Tuesday, February 2, the City and County of Denver will begin accepting online applications for its new 5 Star Certification program. The goal is to allow restaurants and certain other establishments (such as gyms, salons and other businesses operating under capacity limits) that show they are meeting specific COVID-related guidelines, in order to be certified to operate at a less restrictive level on the Colorado COVID dial than the county as a whole. For restaurants, the main advantages of the program are increased indoor capacity and later last calls for alcohol.

Mayor Michael Hancock announced the program in his briefing on Thursday, January 28, at the same time he stated that Denver's key COVID statistics have dropped into the right range to put the city and county in Level Orange. (Since January 4, Denver has been operating under Level Orange restrictions by executive order of Governor Jared Polis, even though most of the measurables were still at Level Red.)

What else does this mean for restaurants and bars? Here are answers to a few questions sure to come up:

Will restaurants be able to operate at 50 percent capacity once their application has been approved?

The application is currently for pre-approval for the 5 Star program. According to the City and County, Denver must "maintain seven days of stable or declining Orange Level metrics as defined by CDPHE before the program can be fully implemented."

So if a restaurant applies on February 2 and is pre-approved, it could potentially begin operating at Level Yellow — which allows for 50 percent capacity and tables six feet apart — seven days from the Mayor's January 28 announcement. This assumes that the numbers continue to stay at or below the Level Orange range and that an inspection and approval could take place in that time frame. The city will individually notify pre-approved businesses when they will be able to begin operating under the 5 Star guidelines, so there shouldn't be any confusion over a start date.

Coffee shops, restaurants and other businesses are ready to welcome more guests.
Coffee shops, restaurants and other businesses are ready to welcome more guests.
Kyle Wells

How far apart will tables be under the various levels, with or without 5 Star Certification?

Levels Green, Blue, Yellow and Orange all allow for tables to be spaced six feet apart, so certification won't affect that. It's only if Denver slips back to Level Red and dining rooms close that things change, and tables would need to be moved to at least ten feet apart at certified restaurants (and non-certified restaurants would have to close their dining rooms). But as we've seen from the past ten months, state officials could decide that keeping dining rooms open at all is too dangerous when hospitals are filling up and cases are increasing, even for businesses with certification. According to the program's guidelines, "If Denver’s caseload, positivity rate and hospitalizations begin to escalate again, the State may move Denver to a more restrictive level on the dial, and the City could temporarily revoke 5 Star certifications for businesses."

Can restaurants with previous citations for COVID violations apply for the program?

Colorado guidelines for the program state that businesses should have "zero prior citations of noncompliance with public health orders." Denver's sample application asks "Have you been issued a violation by Public Health since December 12th?"

If a restaurant doesn't have 5 Star Certification, is it unsafe to visit?

Not necessarily. Some restaurants might choose to skip the certification process because their dining rooms are too small to benefit from increased capacity, since they may not be able to squeeze more seating in with the six-foot distance restriction. Others may choose to limit operations voluntarily for health and safety reasons. And some restaurants are choosing to remain closed completely, or to only provide takeout and delivery service, until they can safely seat at full capacity.

Will customers need to provide contact information to the restaurant?

One of the rules for qualifying for and maintaining 5 Star Certification is that at least one person from each party seated needs to provide contact information in the event that positive COVID cases are discovered or an outbreak occurs.

What if I see clear violations of COVID regulations at a 5 Star restaurant?

Colorado has set up an online COVID compliance complaint form, and complaints can also be registered with the City and County of Denver by calling 311 or emailing phicomments@denvergov.org.

If certified restaurants are safe, do I have to wear a mask?

Yes, you still have to wear a mask. In fact, 5 Star guidelines recommend that customers wear a mask anytime they are not eating and drinking. So if you're ordering from your server, waiting for your food, or are finished eating and waiting for your check, you should have your mask on. This is not only to protect yourself, but to protect the employees of the restaurant, who are exposed to dozens of people every day.

Do restaurants have to pay to apply for 5 Star Certification?

There is an application fee, which ranges from $25 (for restaurants with less than $1 million in annual revenue) to $150, for those with more than $ million in revenue. Those that hit $1 million to $5 million will pay $75 to apply.

Do you have any other questions about the 5 Star Certification program in Denver, or questions about COVID-based restaurant regulations in Denver in general? Let us know in the comments, or send an email to cafe@westword.com.

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