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Brendan Hartigen brings dirty dishes into the kitchen at The Last Steep Bar & Grill on Elk Avenue in Crested Butte, Colorado on August 6, 2019. (Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado released draft guidelines on Tuesday for restaurants that want to reopen to in-person dining as soon as the coming weeks, revealing major changes the coronavirus has made to the way people are used to dining out.


The latest from the coronavirus outbreak in Colorado:

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The bottom line: Restaurant goers should not expect dining to be normal, and it will likely be difficult for businesses to recoup their losses.

Among the rules for restaurants wishing to reopen for in-person dining are requirements that they keep tables at least 8 feet apart — whether they are indoors or outdoors — and that servers wear masks and gloves.

Other items included in the guidelines are that:

  • Menus be single-use only
  • Restaurants have proper ventilation
  • Restaurants not offer communal seating or bar seating
  • Self-service stations and buffets are not allowed
  • Restaurants must have floor decals to direct customers
  • Bathrooms must be cleaned every 30 minutes and there must be at least 6 feet of spacing between in-service stalls and urinals
  • Hand sanitizer must be available for patron and employee use
  • Servers must wash their hands at least every 30 minutes
  • Menu offerings should be modified to create more kitchen space
  • Customers should be asked to wear masks when they are not eating or drinking
  • Customers should be asked to register with the restaurant in case an outbreak occurs

Restaurants, under the draft guidelines, are also directed to notify public health officials if there is an outbreak among their staff or patrons of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The empty Vine Bistro restaurant in downtown Montrose Tuesday afternoon March 17, 2020. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado’s food-service industry has been one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. Scores have lost their jobs because of the virus and some restaurants have closed their doors for good because of the financial impacts.

A few restaurants were already chafing at the proposed guidelines released by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Tuesday.

William Oliver’s Publick House, which has locations in Lafayette and Fort Collins, said the 8-foot spacing rule would limit seating to about 9.5% of capacity.

“These guidelines are still a work in progress,” the Colorado Restaurant Association said in a post on its website. “However, these guidelines give us a glimpse of what reopening may look like.”

Gov. Jared Polis has encouraged local governments to loosen regulations to allow restaurants to serve customers in their parking lots, on sidewalks and even on streets where possible so that they can have more capacity.

“That’s really the only way, with the spacing, we’re going to have a thriving restaurant environment for the coming months,” Polis said Monday.

The governor hopes to solicit feedback this week and finalize the guidelines before Memorial Day, which is when he said he will decide whether restaurants statewide can reopen for in-person dining.

In Mesa County, in-person dining has already resumed because officials there requested and were granted a variance to the state’s safer-at-home order.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....