Colorado Restaurants Are Still Struggling Even As The State Eases Coronavirus Capacity Restrictions

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Restaurants Allowed to Reopen Rioja Larimer Square
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Bryce Oldfield and Rachel LeBar (not visible) dine on the Larimer Street patio of Rioja on Friday, May 29, 2020, after the state eased restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Colorado is continuing to ease restrictions on restaurants as they near one month of reopened dine-in services

But many restaurant owners still say they are in danger of closing permanently. The Colorado Restaurant Association surveyed about 250 restaurant owners around the state during the first week of June. More than half say that they may close permanently in three months under the current indoor capacity limits. 

“Nothing really is going to be enough until restaurants are back up to at least 75 percent capacity,” said Sonia Riggs, president of the Colorado Restaurant Association. “When we talk to restaurants, they say, that's the magic number that they need to be able to continue in the medium term. For the long term, restaurants really need to be back at 100 percent. That is what they base their business models on. So any limited capacity is certainly going to be difficult for them.”

State and local governments are working on expanding restaurant capacity. Colorado eased pandemic restrictions about three and a half weeks ago, allowing restaurants to operate at either 50 percent dine-in capacity or 50 persons maximum, whichever is less, as long as social distancing is maintained. And late last week, the state issued its latest guidelines: bars will be allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity or a 50-person maximum, and some restaurants will be permitted to serve up to 100 customers at a time.

Riggs and restaurant owners are also applauding measures like expanded outdoor seating and street closures that are underway across the state.

Denver Department of Excise and Licenses said it approved 100 restaurants in four weeks for outdoor seating expansion. That’s the number of applications the agency said it normally receives in one year.

The state legislature approved restaurants and bars to continue serving takeaway alcohol through July 2021 with the possibility of extension. Several communities, including Englewood, have gone a step further and are allowing open consumption of alcoholic beverages in designated public areas.

Tiffany Fixter, an owner of Brewability in Englewood, called the measure “a huge relief.”

“When we did apply for the expansion, and we went to the city first and then they told us we needed to go through the state and I was very worried that was gonna be a slow process and I had all my ducks in a row from the city send it all showed them the receipt and everything and they approved it within 20 minutes, I was floored,” Fixter said.

Riggs said that protecting public health is paramount for restaurant owners as they navigate reopening. She hopes that the increase in outdoor dining will keep customers safe and help them feel more comfortable.