Colorado Restaurants Can Reopen For In-Person Dining Wednesday

May 24, 2020
Barcelona Restaurant Larimer Street Take Out Face MaskBarcelona Restaurant Larimer Street Take Out Face MaskHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Christina Hogue, in face mask, one of the managers at Barcelona on Denver’s Larimer Street, stands at the restaurant’s take-out window May 22, 2020. Like a lot of restaurants in Colorado, Barcelona opted to offer take-out and curbside pickup menus during government-ordered coronavirus restrictions.

Colorado restaurant owners must follow strict rules when they reopen their dining rooms. Gov. Jared Polis released the guidelines on Sunday night, and on Monday, announced that restaurants could resume in-person service by Wednesday.

Restaurants will have to keep an 6-foot distance between tables and limit party sizes to eight people. All workers must wear facial coverings. Restaurants should stop using tablecloths and use single-use versions or clean them between patrons. Employees must take home all belongings, including water bottles, after every shift. All staff meetings must follow physical distancing and if that’s not possible, the state encourages virtual meetings. 

Takeout options and pickup and delivery of alcohol are still allowed in addition to in-person dining. 

Customers will be encouraged to wear a mask at restaurants when they aren’t eating or drinking or walking past other tables to get to delivery areas or restrooms. 

Restaurants are supposed to provide an option for customers to ‘sign in’ to notify them if an exposure occurs and to provide contactless payment options whenever possible.

Other restrictions include making parties wait in their cars or off premises until seating is available, no self-service stations or buffets, no seat-yourself options, and requiring reservations if feasible. The state also wants restaurants to make 6-foot spacing for people in lines and to mark how foot traffic should move. Customers can sit at the bar of a restaurant if they are under the same distancing requirements and if the bar is not being used for preparing food or drinks. 

Restaurants and their workers have taken an enormous financial hit from social distancing guidelines. Tens of thousands of food industry employees have lost their jobs in Colorado. Many restaurants worry that even when they’re allowed to reopen to limited in-person dining, that won’t be enough to save their businesses.

Crema Restaurant Larimer Street Take Out Face MaskHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Barista Alex Heaton, in face mask, works the take-out window at Crema on Denver’s Larimer Street, May 22, 2020. Like a lot of restaurants in Colorado, Crema opted to offer take-out and curbside pickup menus during government-ordered coronavirus restrictions.

The governor’s office had released a draft of the guidelines last week and asked for feedback from stakeholders. The Colorado Restaurant Association said that gave restaurants time to prepare. 

“We appreciate that there is some flexibility in areas on how restaurants can comply,” the association said in a statement. “Thank you for working with us.”

The association raised concerns about enforcement protocols, though, and said owners need more support. 

We have started to see violent acts from customers around the country who believe their civil rights are being violated,” the statement said. “Restaurants need support to enforce this from the state or allowance to make exceptions when needed.”

In Denver, more than 300 eateries have applied to a patio expansion program which would allow them to serve people on adjacent streets, sidewalks and parking lots.  

A group called Colorado Freedom Force tweeted Friday evening that more than 100 restaurant owners met and decided to reopen their doors over the weekend in defiance of Polis’s “safer-at-home” order, which limits restaurants to take-out only. 

And yet, in some parts of Colorado, restaurants are already able to legally serve people in person. The restaurants in the rest of the state will be able to join them by Wednesday.