Dining outside on patios, sidewalks, balconies and even parking lots could become more common this summer as Colorado Springs restaurants seek enough space to safely seat more customers and abide by coronavirus social distancing rules.

Colorado Springs is helping speed the opening of outdoor dining areas by waiving permit fees and limiting the review of those permits to a week. The city started waiving the fee in mid-May and has approved 12 permits for outdoor dining so far, said Peter Wysocki, planning and development director

"Obviously we want to make it easy on everyone. ... Hopefully they can rebound from all of this," he said. 

Diners will also likely be able to enjoy alcoholic beverages outside as well under a state measure to expedite permitting, according to a news release. 

Expanded outdoor dining might help save locally owned restaurants that are still hurting after Gov. Jared Polis closed dine-in areas in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus, said Greg Howard, president of the Pikes Peak Chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association. Restaurants were allowed to open for dine-in service on May 27, but at only half capacity and with a maximum of 50 people. 

The busy season for restaurants typically starts in March and lasts through the summer months, so the statewide closure hurt sales during a critical period, Howard said. Ensuring the rest of the summer is strong could help restaurants which may no longer be able to postpone rent payments and need the revenue to make it through the slower fall and winter seasons, he said. 

"We really kind of limp through the fall and winter," Howard said. 

It is likely that restaurant closures as a result of the coronavirus impacts might be delayed and happen slowly over the coming months as owners try to save their businesses, he said. 

"Restaurant owners are fighters," he said. 

The National Restaurant Association is estimating that 30% to 40% of locally owned restaurants across the country could close in the next year to 18 months, Howard said. 

The recovery for the restaurant industry could take about two years because they were hurt during a profitable time and they still are not running at full capacity, he said. 

"The important thing right now is to make smart business decisions that help the industry because the industry employs so many," he said. 

Businesses interested in expanding seating onto a public sidewalk need to be sure there is space to maintain a 3-foot-wide pathway for pedestrians, Wysocki said. Those interested in opening dining areas in parking lots need to be sure a flow of traffic is maintained, he said. 

Contact the writer at mary.shinn@gazette.com or (719) 429-9264.

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