Colorado restaurants can reopen their dining rooms and patios for the first time in two months. But diners should prepare for some changes to the way their favorite eateries operate.

As Colorado restaurants reopen, don’t expect to find salt and pepper shakers on your table. For the time being, condiments are of the disposable kind. Your table will smell of disinfectant, and the room with the pool table and vintage video games will be off-limits.

It’s all part of a new set of guidelines issued by Gov. Jared Polis this week. On Wednesday, May 27, eating establishments can reopen their serving areas. Among the stipulations: They’re limited to half their legal indoor occupancy numbers. Parties are limited to eight people, and customers won’t seat themselves.

Restaurants in Colorado have been closed since mid-March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

In a press conference on May 26, Polis admitted that the new guidelines do not suddenly make it “safe” to venture out in public, especially with positive cases of COVID-19 still being reported.

“But they make it as safe as reasonably possible,” he added, “consistent with the needs of the private sector to operate and thrive, and consistent with the needs to prevent an outbreak that overwhelms our hospital capacity.”

He added that the new guidance is an effort to strike a balance between public and employee health and the economy, noting that about 10 percent of the state’s workforce is involved in foodservice.

Here’s what you can expect at restaurants that choose to reopen, at-a-glance:


If you’re a patron:

  • Indoor dine-in service is limited to 50 percent occupancy or 50 patrons maximum.
  • Tables will be a minimum of 6-feet apart both inside and at outdoor patios.
  • You’ll be able to sit at the bar but with the same physical distancing requirements as at a table.
  • Menus will be disposable or on a wallboard or digital display.
  • Self-serve buffets and serving areas are not allowed.
  • All condiments will be single-use.
  • Dancefloors and gaming areas (video games, billiards, or horseshoes) will not be allowed.

If you’re a food service employee:

  • Staff will perform a deep cleaning and apply disinfectant after any patron or group leaves a table.
  • Staff and suppliers must wear masks at all times.
  • Employees must wash their hands a minimum of every 30 minutes and between any task.
  • Employees will be encouraged to maintain at least six feet of physical distance from each other.

Download Colorado’s COVID-19 Guidance for Restaurants and Food Services, issued May 24, 2020, for all guidelines.

The new guidance has led to some confusion among bars, breweries, and distilleries. They can reopen, but they have to prevent people from mingling. Evidence in other states and countries suggests that the virus can spread quickly among large, mingling crowds. Polis explained in the press conference that any food or drink establishment could reopen if they can accommodate table seating with distancing and encourage patrons to stay at their tables and within their groups.

The new directive is a modification to Gov. Jared Polis’ (D) “Safer-at-Home” order that he instituted on April 26. The updates also allow ski areas to reopen if they still have snow. Kid’s day camps and youth sports camps can also start a phased reopening.


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I’m reporting on the impact of the coronavirus in the Four Corners region for KSUT Public Radio. The stories and audio here were previously aired and published by KSUT. Stories are archived at Open Range News.

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