Denver to Create New Permanent Outdoor Dining Program

Published on October 26, 2021

Mayor Michael B. Hancock and city officials today announced the City and County of Denver will create a permanent outdoor dining program next year that builds on the success of temporary patio spaces used by local businesses during the pandemic. The temporary program was created in May 2020 to help restaurants and bars safely expand their serving capacity during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. A permanent program will allow businesses the ability to continue to apply for permits to use private and public space for outdoor dining operations after the temporary program ends in October 2022.

A total of 373 Denver bars and restaurants have participated in the temporary program to date, with 111 bars and restaurants currently licensed to operate outdoor expansions through January 31 when program participation is typically lower due to cold weather. The innovative program Denver launched last year streamlined approval and permitting processes to allow restaurants to quickly expand their operations amid social distancing guidelines. The program helped keep businesses afloat, generating sales tax revenue for the city that might have otherwise been lost, and provided residents enjoyable, safe outdoor dining options.

“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,” Mayor Hancock said. “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.”

City agencies are currently assessing how many of the businesses participating in this program can make it a long-term part of their business model, to support Denver’s economic recovery and keep more people employed who work in the hospitality industry. In a survey of Denver restaurants conducted by the Colorado Restaurant Association earlier this year, 74% of respondents said they would like to see outdoor dining expansion program made permanent and 71.4% said they planned to pursue city processes to make their temporary outdoor dining area permanent. Restaurants reported in the survey that, on average, 54% of their summer revenue came from outdoor dining areas in 2020.

Requests to use the public right of way for outdoor dining will continue to be reviewed by Denver’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI). In the coming months, DOTI will 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. Criteria/limits for using parking lanes and travel lanes for dining will be established to ensure the safety of all.  At the end of this month, DOTI will begin implementing a $50 fee for temporary outdoor dining permits, due each quarterly renewal period. Permitting fees for the permanent dining program have yet to be determined but will be communicated prior to the new program going into effect. While the outdoor dining program itself is becoming permanent, right of way permits are always temporary and revocable to allow the city to react to changing conditions along a particular stretch.  

Additionally, a permanent outdoor dining program will require amendments to the Denver Zoning Code, which regulates private property in Denver. All zoning code amendments occur with public input and must be approved by Denver City Council. Denver Community Planning and Development will begin this work in early 2022.

As permanent outdoor dining rules and regulations are developed, they will be available on the program website, where applications for the program can still be submitted for temporary participation through October 2022. The program website also has tips and requirements for restaurants offering tents and heating for outdoor dining during the upcoming cold weather season and a design manual to guide restaurant owners in low-cost design enhancements for their outdoor patio spaces.