Restaurant operators say fewer COVID-19 restrictions “didn’t really change all that much” on the first day

The six-foot distancing rule is still a huge limiting factor. 

Oskar Blues Grill & Brew on Market St.

Oskar Blues Grill & Brew on Market St.


Earlier this week, Mayor Hancock announced a new public health order relaxing some COVID-19 restrictions. Starting Friday, bars that don’t sell food can reopen, at 25% capacity, and restaurants may increase capacity from 50% to 100%, as long as they continue to keep 6-foot distancing between groups.

But on the first day the new restrictions took effect, restaurants in downtown Denver looked pretty much as they did before the new orders kicked in. Some restaurant workers Denverite spoke to didn’t even know that the new order had passed. Others said the changes haven’t affected them much, at least in terms of how many guests restaurants can house at a time.

Vanessa Lucio, general manager of Oskar Blues Grill & Brew, said that even with the new order, Oskar Blues is among the many restaurants that still won’t be able to reach 100% capacity.

“I appreciate that we’re moving in the right direction, but ‘blue’ didn’t really change all that much for most of us,” she said (Denver is currently operating under old “level blue” restrictions, a statewide gauge that as of this week no longer exists). “It’s kind of irrelevant.”

The problem is the 6-foot distancing rule— a limiting factor for many businesses, and especially smaller ones without much room to spread out in. Lucio said that even Oskar Blues, which isn’t a particularly small restaurant, can only reach about 50% capacity with 6-foot distancing, the capacity limit before Denver shifted to the new restrictions. The one thing the public health order changed for Oskar Blues, she said, is that its downstairs music venue can now accommodate a few more tables, increasing capacity from 60 people to about 80.

Bart Hickey, a managing partner at Capital Grille in Larimer Square, said he doesn’t remember seeing the new order when it was announced Wednesday. If he did, he glossed over it.

“It doesn’t really affect this restaurant, because we keep social distancing, keep people six feet apart,” Hickey said. With the six-foot rule still in place, he said, Capital Grille will continue to operate at about 40% capacity with expanded outdoor seating.

Under the new public health order, bars are now allowed to open, at 25% capacity, or up to 75 people (they were not allowed to open before the new rules). But Lucio said it’s unlikely that bars will be affected much by the change, either, noting that most have remained open throughout the pandemic by adding food to their menus.

“The bars have been functioning with a little bit of adjustment,” she said. “Honestly, I can’t even think of one bar that that changed for.”

Hickey said the only change that would substantially increase capacity in his restaurant is reducing the 6-foot rule to 3 feet, or doing away with it altogether. He said if the rule was relaxed to 3 feet, Capital Grille would be able to reach full capacity: about 300 people. Still, he said he’s not in a rush to increase capacity indoors.

“Even if they removed all restrictions, we would probably do social distancing, because there’s still a lot of people that have a lot of anxiety about COVID-19,” he said. “And we want to make sure that anyone who comes to our restaurant feels comfortable and feels good about the experience.”

He said that while the new order doesn’t affect Capital Grille’s capacity, what does change is patron confidence, as the world starts to feel a bit more optimistic. He said the public health order might help people feel a little safer and more comfortable in restaurants.

“The more people get vaccinated, the more people feel comfortable going out to restaurants,” Hickey said. “So that elevates our ability to run the business and get more people in here.”


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