Outdoor dining in Larimer Square

Restaurant patrons keep warm under patio heaters while dining outside on Oct. 18, 2020, in downtown Denver's Larimer Square. 

The City of Denver intends to create a permanent outdoor dining program next year for when the current pandemic-inspired program comes to an end, the city announced Tuesday.

The outdoor dining program was established in May 2020. It allows restaurants and bars to expand their operations to makeshift patios on sidewalks and streets, after COVID-19 social distancing requirements reduced the number of customers allowed inside.

The permanent program will allow local businesses to apply for permits to continue using the public space for outdoor dining operations after the temporary program ends in October 2022, said Mayor Michael Hancock.

“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,” Hancock said.

To date, 373 restaurants and bars in Denver have participated in the temporary program, with 111 licensed to continue outdoor operations through Jan. 31 despite COVID-19 capacity limits being lifted, according to city data.

The city is currently assessing how many of these businesses can transition to the permanent program.

Earlier this year, 74% of Denver restaurant owners said they want the outdoor dining program to be permanent and 71.4% said they’d pursue the permanent program, according to a survey by the Colorado Restaurant Association.

The survey also found that, on average, 54% of summer revenue earned by Denver restaurants came from outdoor dining areas in 2020.

The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure is working to establish new processes for the permanent outdoor dining program, including public safety requirements, permit renewal, permit fees and limits to using parking and travel lanes, the announcement said.

The new program will also require amendments to the Denver Zoning Code which must be approved by the Denver City Council. These changes will be drafted in early 2022, the announcement said.

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