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Outdoor dining is becoming a permanent option for Denver restaurants
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Denver's outdoor dining program is here to stay.
The outdoor dining tents set up outside of Denver's Union Station in October 2020

DENVER — The temporary outdoor dining program in Denver that served as a lifeline to scores of restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic will soon become permanent, Mayor Michael Hancock announced Tuesday.

“The restaurant industry has been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic, and the outdoor dining program provided them a little bit of relief to help them keep their doors open and their workers employed,” the mayor said in a news conference outside of Daughter Thai Kitchen and Bar. Various city officials and members of the Colorado Restaurant Association joined Hancock for the announcement.

“We’re looking forward to making our outdoor dining program a permanent part of the Denver experience and supporting a sustainable economic recovery for our local restaurants, their employees and the communities they’re a part of,” Hancock continued.

The temporary program, which permitted restaurants to expand their operations outdoors, started in May of 2020 after indoor dining was heavily regulated—and in some cases, banned—due to the pandemic. It was originally set to expire in October of 2020 but has been continually extended throughout the pandemic. Earlier this year, the program was extended to October 2022.

Now, the program will no longer need to be extended—it will become permanent.

The mayor’s announcement is popular in the dining industry. In March of 2021, the Colorado Restaurant Association (CRA) published a survey that found 74% of respondents were in favor of an outdoor dining expansion program.

The CRA also found that restaurants earned an average of 36% of their summer revenue from expanded patios in 2020.

In a news release, Hancock’s office said that to date, 373 Denver bars and restaurants have participated in the temporary outdoor expansion program; 111 bars and restaurants are currently approved to continue operating their outdoor expansions through January 31, 2022 (the mayor’s office noted that participation is lower in the colder months).

According to the mayor’s office, city agencies are determining how many of the restaurants currently participating in the program can do it permanently. And it should be noted that this change will not happen overnight: a permanent outdoor dining program means the Denver Zoning Code will need new amendments, which require public input and approval by the Denver City Council. That process will begin in early 2022, Hancock said.

Furthermore, the Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) is working to “establish processes around a permanent outdoor dining program, likely transitioning from a quarterly to annual permit renewal process and outlining requirements that maintain public safety and mobility,” city officials said.

Regulations, applications and more information about the outdoor dining program in Denver can be found here.


Kyle Cooke is the digital media manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at kylecooke@rmpbs.org.

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