Restaurants and Commercial Kitchens

Woodie Fisher Kitchen & Bar and winner of a 2019 Mayor's Design Award

This webpage provides guidance on applying for permits for new and existing restaurants or commercial kitchens, from construction work to changes in equipment, type of food served, layout, and more. Most applicants should plan for at least 1-2 months of professional design and engineering work before applying for permits, followed by the time for permit review. Please review this information before applying for permits.

Pictured: Woodie Fisher Kitchen & Bar at 1999 Chestnut Place, winner of a 2019 Mayor's Design Award

General Rules


  • Building plans must be prepared by licensed architects and engineers. Use professionals who are experienced in restaurant design -- delays can occur when incomplete information is submitted or a design plan is submitted that does not meet code. Current codes have more restrictive requirements for kitchens than in the past.

  • For new spaces, make sure your proposed project has a valid Denver address before applying for permits.

  • A site development plan is required before building permits for the following projects: new commercial construction, major additions to existing buildings, and tenant-finish/remodel projects when there is a change in the type of building occupancy (e.g., industrial to restaurant). Learn more about site development plans.

Special Situations

Landmarks and Historic Districts

All projects that include exterior work and are located in a historic district or a designated landmark will require a certificate of appropriateness, meaning the project's design has been reviewed by Landmark Preservation and is appropriate for the historic nature of the property. It is highly recommended that you obtain this certificate before applying for building and zoning permits.

Learn more about meeting design guidelines for landmark properties.


Right-of-Way Permits

The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure provides resources and permits for the short-term use of the city’s right-of-way. The public right-of-way typically includes streets, alleys, and sidewalks.

Right-of-way (ROW) permits


Research your property

Permits

Zoning Permits

All businesses in Denver are required to have a zoning use permit. 

Before submitting a zoning application, use the DevelopDENVER map to find your zone district. Then check the zoning code to confirm that your proposed use is allowed in that zone district. Check the primary use (e.g., an "eating & drinking establishment") and any accessory uses, like an outdoor eating area or a drive-through. Also check the parking requirements to determine if you will have enough parking. 

There are two timelines for obtaining zoning permits. You can apply for zoning permits first, which is a good option if you need an issued zoning permit in order to start a business license application. Alternatively, you can apply for zoning and building permits simultaneously. In this path, zoning and building reviews run concurrently.

Related Resources

 

Site Development Plans

The following project types must submit a site development plan (SDP) before applying for building permits:

  • New commercial and multifamily construction
  • Major additions to commercial and multifamily buildings
  • Tenant-finish/remodels when there is a change of occupancy leading to new site impacts

During the SDP process, a city project coordinator will help ensure your project aligns with the zoning code as well as other regulations related to design, infrastructure, and safety. You will receive zoning permits during this stage. You do not need to apply for a zoning permit separately.

Site Development Plans

 

Building Permits

Includes building, health, wastewater, and fire reviews

Virtually all restaurant and commercial kitchen projects will need building permits and inspections. For major projects, this will include reviews by building (architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing), public health, sewer use and drainage, and fire disciplines. Smaller projects, like upgrading kitchen appliances or changing tables to booths, may only need a few of these reviews. Submitting the "building log" application in e-permits will start each of these reviews simultaneously, so please make sure to upload the plans and documentation required for each with your application.

Related Resources

 

How to Apply using E-permits

First-time e-permits users will need to create an online account. Once signed into e-permits, go to "Apply for a Permit" under "Development Services."

For zoning permits only (not Site Development Plans): When prompted to select a permit type, select "zoning permit."

For Site Development Plans: When prompted to select a permit type, select "concept plan."

For zoning and building permits: When prompted to select a permit type, select "building log." 

Apply for permits online

What to Submit

Zoning-only Permit

To apply for a zoning permit only, submit your project through e-permits.

  1. Enter e-permits
  2. Go to Development Services > Apply for a Permit
  3. Select Zoning Permit

In the online application, you will be prompted to upload additional documents, which may include a floor plan, site plan, building elevations, and a written narrative describing the project.

Document requirements for zoning permits

Zoning and Building Permits 

To start concurrent reviews for zoning, building, health, sewer use and drainage (SUDP), and fire permits, submit your project through e-permits.

  1. Enter e-permits
  2. Go to Development Services > Apply for a Permit
  3. Select Building Log 

When prompted to upload additional information, please include the items listed below as well as any other information specific to your project that may be needed to demonstrate compliance with city codes.

  • Zoning plan set (not needed if you already have an issued zoning permit)

Save all files as PDFs and name them: DocumentName_Address_Date.pdf (e.g., SitePlan_201WColfax_11-1-2017.pdf).

Electronic Signatures

Apply seals and a valid electronic signature to any document (plans, reports, surveys, letters) prepared by an architect, engineer, or surveyor. Please ensure all documents are unlocked for editing so they can be reviewed. Unsigned, unstamped, or invalidated signatures cannot be accepted. 

How to apply a valid electronic signature(PDF, 1023KB)

Business and Liquor Licenses

All restaurants need a business license and will also need a liquor license if alcohol is served. State law and municipal code impose rigid timelines for many licensing transactions. As such, applicants should anticipate a minimum of 120 days from the submittal of their complete license application to issuance. 

Licenses are issued by the Department of Excise and Licenses. The links below will take you to the Excise and Licenses webpage.

Liquor Licenses

Tips

  • Business/liquor licenses cannot be approved until a zoning permit is issued, but you can start the license applications while your zoning application is under review. 
  • Make sure to list the same business name on the zoning application and business/liquor license applications. Inconsistencies in materials can cause delays.
  • Ensure you have a legal right to the premise (e.g., a valid 12-month lease) and have obtained a Street Furniture/Table, Chairs, and Railings (TCR) permit from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure for any seating or patio areas in the right-of-way.
  • Ensure you have a valid Certificate of Taxes Due from Denver's Treasury Division.

Inspections

License applications will require their own set of facility inspections from fire, building, health, and Excise. Please note: These are independent of the inspections required for zoning and building permits. If the timing overlaps and you are ready for your license inspections and building inspections at the same time, you may schedule these to occur concurrently. For license inspections, you will need to provide the inspector with your Excise and Licenses' Business File Number (YYYY-BFN-######). For construction inspections, you will need the approved plans and permits onsite.

What to expect during a business license inspection(PDF, 144KB)

Deferred Submittals, Modified Drawings, and Inspections

Deferred Submittals

A certificate of occupancy (CO) will not be issued until all aspects of the job, including deferred items, have been reviewed, permitted, and inspected. 

A "deferred submittal" covers portions of a project that are not submitted with the initial permit application. For example, in a restaurant, the item most often deferred is the walk-in cooler. The walk-in cooler could be included on the initial plans submitted for review, but if all of the details are not yet known, the applicant may elect to submit the walk-in cooler or outdoor patio details at a later date. Any deferred items submitted after the commercial construction permit is issued will be reviewed and permitted separately.

Make sure your contractor submits plans for any deferred items with enough time to allow for plan review in order to avoid delays in opening your restaurant. 


Modified Drawings

If, after a building permit is issued, changes are made in the field that differ from the approved plans, new drawings will need to be logged in for review. These are known as "modified drawings" and, if approved, they will receive a new permit. Any contractors with changes per the modified plans must also obtain a new permit and schedule new inspections for their respective trades.

Submit all modified drawings through e-permits using the same instructions as for the original building submittal. Make sure to include the following:

  • A letter explaining what was modified, why, and with references to the appropriate plan sheets
  • Electronically signed, and stamped, modified plans with all changes clouded or marked, and including code references
  • Electronically signed, and stamped, documents that are pertinent to the changes, such as structural calculations and specifications
  • Contact information for the contractor, owner, and architect or engineer of record
  • An updated Affordable Housing Fee Application
  • A revised statement of valuation form if the changes result in an increased project valuation. Hourly plan review fees will be assessed with a minimum charge of two hours.

Inspections

Before issuing a CO, inspectors will require that all facets of the job are complete, including work from modified plans and deferred submittal items, and that all inspections on all permits have been approved. You may also need final approval letters from any third-party engineers and special inspectors.

  • TIP: Make sure the equipment/appliances installed match what is listed on the approved plans. If you change equipment (e.g., buying used restaurant appliances), your plans will need to be re-reviewed. To ensure the restaurant opens on time, submit modified drawings as early as possible and do not wait until an inspector is checking the equipment install.

Schedule inspections