Skip navigation

RESTAURANTS AND COMMERCIAL KITCHENS

Building plans must be prepared by licensed architects and engineers. Use professionals who are experienced in restaurant design -- delays can occur when incomplete information is submitted or a design plan is submitted that does not meet code. Current codes have more restrictive requirements for kitchens than in the past.
Check your review status | View our target review times

This web-based guide outlines how to obtain development permits for new and existing restaurants or commercial kitchens, from construction work to changes in equipment, type of food served, layout, and more. Most applicants should plan for at least 1-2 months of professional design and engineering work before applying for building permits, followed by 2-3 months for permit review.

Historic Districts, Landmarks, and Design Review Districts

Historic Barney Ford Building

Type your address into the DevelopDENVER map to check whether your site is located within any of the following: historic district, individual historic landmark, and/or design review district. 

  • Any exterior work on a historic or landmarked site must complete a design review from Landmark Preservation before applying for zoning or building permits. A landmark/historic review may take several weeks. 
  • If the site is in a design review district, review the district's design standards and guidelines or contact your commercial project coordinator (listed on the DevelopDENVER map) to find out what urban design standards apply.

Pictured: 1514 Blake Street, the historic Barney Ford Building and home to "The People's Restaurant" circa 1863

For new or reconfigured spaces, make sure your proposed project has a valid Denver address before applying for a zoning permit.

Zoning Permits

Zoning permits ensure the buildings and uses on a site align with the community’s vision for that area of the city. Once approved, zoning entitlements stay with the land and can give value to a property. Information submitted by the applicant for a zoning permit helps build city records, which can make it easier to issue permits for that space in the future.

Before submitting a zoning application, use the DevelopDENVER map to find your zone district. Then check the zoning code to confirm that your proposed use is allowed in that zone district. Check the primary use (e.g., an "eating & drinking establishment") and any accessory uses, like an outdoor eating area or a drive-through. Also check the parking requirements to determine if you will have enough parking. 

Zoning Records and Research 

A zoning records request will provide you with a copy of the record for your site, including plans or permits on file. Alternatively, we can also provide zoning research for any Denver property, including zoning compliance letters and rebuild information.

Rezoning inquiries | Zone lot amendments | Obtain an address


Zoning Use, Zoning Construction, and Sign Permits

Denver's Commercial Zoning team reviews and issues use permits, zoning permits for exterior construction or changes, and sign permits. This team also reviews floor plans as needed for applicants obtaining a "modification of premises" from the Department of Excise & Licenses.

There are two timelines for obtaining zoning permits:

  • Receive a zoning permit before applying for building permits. This is a good option if you need an issued zoning permit in order to start a business license application, or if your zoning permit type is eligible for a same-day review at the counter (PDF).
  • Apply for zoning and building permits simultaneously. In this path, zoning and building reviews run concurrently. This can reduce overall review time by up to a month. Learn more about simultaneous review.

Site Development Plan (SDP) Review

Instead of applying for zoning permits through the link above, the following project types must submit a site development plan (SDP) before applying for building permits:

  • New construction
  • Major additions
  • Tenant-finish/remodels when there is a change of occupancy leading to new site impacts that need a review by multiple city agencies

The SDP process can take 6-12 months, during which a project coordinator will help ensure your project aligns with all city codes and regulations, from drainage to transportation to zoning. The project coordinator for your site is listed on the DevelopDENVER map.

Licensing

You will need to obtain a business license for your restaurant, and a liquor license if you intend to serve alcohol. To expedite this process, apply for business/liquor licenses while your zoning application is under review. Make sure to list the same business name on the zoning application and business/liquor license applications. The zoning permit will need to be issued and valid before license applications can be approved.

Licenses are issued by the Department of Excise and Licenses.

Building, Health, Wastewater, and Fire Reviews and Permits

People eating in Larimer SquareVirtually all restaurant and commercial kitchen projects will need building permits and inspections. For major projects, this will include reviews by all of the disciplines linked below. Smaller projects, like upgrading kitchen appliances or changing tables to booths, may only need a few of the reviews below.

The extent of the information needed to confirm that the finished space will comply with all building, fire, and municipal codes will depend on the unique scope of work for your project. Some work -- like outdoor patios -- may require additional reviews by Public Works.

Click to learn more about each of the following reviews:

Common projects that require a building code review (architectural, structural, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing reviews)

Sewer Use and Drainage Permits (SUDP - Public Works)

Health (Denver Dept. of Public Health and Environment)

Fire (Denver Fire Dept.)


How to apply for building permits:

Because all work in a restaurant or commercial kitchen must have a health review and inspections, building submittals must be logged in for review and cannot be reviewed at the counter.

  • Fill out the included forms and compile the items listed on the checklists.
  • Electronic Signatures. Apply seals and a valid electronic signature to any document (plans, reports, surveys, letters) prepared by an architect, engineer, or surveyor. Please ensure all documents are unlocked for editing so they can be reviewed. Unsigned, unstamped, or invalidated signatures cannot be accepted. How to apply a valid electronic signature (PDF).
  • Save all files as PDFs and name them: DocumentName_Address_Date.pdf (e.g., SitePlan_201WColfax_11-1-2017.pdf)
  • Email your submittal to PlanReview@denvergov.org
    • For large files that cannot be sent as attachments, email a link to Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. where staff can download the files. The documents must be available to download without a password.
    • Resubmittals during the review process: Also send these to PlanReview@denvergov.org -- not to your reviewer.

View our target review times | Check your review status | Fees

Deferred Submittals

A certificate of occupancy (CO) will not be issued until all aspects of the job, including deferred items, have been reviewed, permitted, and inspected. 

A "deferred submittal" covers portions of a project that are not submitted with the initial permit application. For example, in a restaurant, the item most often deferred is the walk-in cooler. The walk-in cooler could be included on the initial plans submitted for review, but if all of the details are not yet known, the applicant may elect to submit the walk-in cooler or outdoor patio details at a later date. Any deferred items submitted after the commercial construction permit is issued will be reviewed and permitted separately.

Make sure your contractor submits plans for any deferred items with enough time to allow for plan review, in order to avoid delays in opening your restaurant.


Modified Drawings

If, after a building permit is issued, changes are made in the field that differ from the approved plans, new drawings will need to be logged in for review. These are known as "modified drawings" and, if approved, they will receive a new permit. Any contractors with changes per the modified plans must also obtain a new permit and schedule new inspections for their respective trades.

Submit all modified drawings by email to PlanReview@denvergov.org using the same instructions as for the original building submittal. Make sure to include the following:

  • A letter explaining what was modified, why, and with references to the appropriate plan sheets
  • Electronically signed, and stamped, modified plans with all changes clouded or marked
  • Electronically signed, and stamped, documents that are pertinent to the changes, such as structural calculations and specifications
  • Contact information for the contractor, owner, and architect or engineer of record
  • A revised statement of valuation form if the changes result in an increased project valuation. Hourly plan review fees will be assessed with a minimum charge of two hours.

Inspections

Before issuing a CO, inspectors will require that all facets of the job are complete, including work from modified plans and deferred submittal items, and that the building inspection card, or cards for multiple permits, is complete with all rough and final inspection signatures, including all agency signatures, shown in the red box on the back of the card. You may also need final approval letters from any third-party engineers and special inspectors.

  • TIP: Make sure the equipment/appliances installed match what is listed on the approved plans. If you change equipment (e.g., buying used restaurant appliances), your plans will need to be re-reviewed. To ensure the restaurant opens on time, submit modified drawings as early as possible and do not wait until an inspector is checking the equipment install.

Check the requirements of these other agencies to avoid delays in completing your project.

 

Resources and Applications

Does your project need a building permit? 

To see a list of what projects do not require permits, go to Section 130.3 "Exempted Work" of the Denver Building & Fire Code (PDF).


Application Forms

Commercial Building Permit Guide (PDF)

Health Plan Review Application (PDF)


Food Trucks

Food trucks are treated differently than restaurants or other kitchens. Download the Denver Food Truck Guide for information on permits, licenses, and inspections.


Important Policies

Denver periodically issues building and zoning code policies or interpretations to clarify situations that are not clearly addressed within current codes.

More: Zoning codes | All building codes and policies | Gender-neutral restrooms

Questions?

Please use the following pages to find contact information:

Visit in person:

Permit counter services and hours