City to Consider Temporary Restaurant Outdoor Seating Proposals

Will we be able to enjoy outdoor food and drinks soon, and will restaurants be able to expand their patio spaces?
Will we be able to enjoy outdoor food and drinks soon, and will restaurants be able to expand their patio spaces? Danielle Lirette
After a number of restaurants and neighborhood organizations sent a letter to Mayor Michael Hancock more than a week ago asking for an easing of standard outdoor seating restrictions to help once the state gives the go-ahead for restaurants to reopen, the city responded by posting an online form on the City of Denver website for businesses to submit their expansion proposals.

And during a press conference today, Governor Jared Polis made it clear that he'll encourage Denver and other municipalities to seriously consider such proposals, which might require zoning exceptions and changes to current rules and regulations.

The form will allow individual restaurants, bars and similar businesses to request an expansion of outdoor seating onto sidewalks, parking lots, lawns, streets and other areas adjacent to their properties, and takes into account the proposed use of both private property and public right-of-way.

“Business owners need time to prepare for re-opening, and we want to set them up for success as soon as dine-in becomes permissible again,” Hancock tweeted today, May 18. “We also want to ensure it’s safe for employees and customers to return to these businesses when that time comes.”

The idea behind expanded outdoor seating is to allow restaurants to increase their capacity while also observing social-distancing rules for indoor dining space. The guidelines for restaurants have yet to be defined, but will likely cap the number of customers at a specific percent of the restaurant's original capacity and/or at a maximum number of customers inside the business; Polis promises to release draft guidelines in the next few days.

One thing that the Denver form does not address is the desire by some neighborhoods, shopping centers and business districts to request outdoor dining and drinking areas that may span several properties or involve closing entire streets or intersections to vehicle traffic.

It's a step in the right direction, though, as long as the city departments in charge of approving and inspecting the expansions are nimble enough to respond quickly. Polis is expected to make a decision on when restaurants statewide will be able to reopen to in-house customers on or around May 25, so business owners will need as much advance notice as possible to ramp up for reopening and getting revenue flowing again after more than two crushing months of lost business.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation