Creating Temporary Outdoor Patios for our Restaurants and Bars
May 18, 2020 —The City and County of Denver is taking action to help bars and restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic with a new program to allow expansions into designated outdoor settings.
Learn more and submit an interest form >>
Remodeling or building a new restaurant
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
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:
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.
Virtually 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.
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.)
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.
You will need to obtain a business license for your restaurant, and a liquor license if you intend to serve alcohol. State law and municipal code impose rigid timelines for many licensing transactions. As such, applicants should anticipate a minimum of 120 days from the submittal of their complete license application to issuance.
Tips to expedite licensing
License applications will require their own set of facility inspections from fire, building, health, and Excise. Please note: These are independent of the inspections required for zoning and building permits. If the timing overlaps and you are ready for your license inspections and building inspections at the same time, you may schedule these to occur concurrently. For license inspections, you will need to provide the inspector with your Excise and Licenses' Business File Number (YYYY-BFN-######). For construction inspections, you will need the approved plans and permits onsite.
Licenses are issued by the Department of Excise and Licenses. The links below will take you to the Excise and Licenses webpage.
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.
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 through e-permits using the same instructions as for the original building submittal. Make sure to include the following:
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.
Denver has a new program to help restaurants and bars during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more here.
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).
Plan Review Application (PDF)
Food trucks are treated differently than restaurants or other kitchens. Download the Denver Food Truck Guide for information on permits, licenses, and inspections.
Denver periodically issues building and zoning code policies or interpretations to clarify situations that are not clearly addressed within current codes.