DENVER (CBS4)– The evening began quietly in Larimer Square. There were open tables and the sound of gas-fired heaters booming with the music.

(Credit: CBS)

“Ordinarily we’d be so full on a night like New Years Eve,” said Beth Gruitch, owner of Rioja, Stoic & Genuine, Ultreia and Bistro Vendome. “There is such anticipation for the New Year (usually), it’s just kind of weird.”

She was happy to hear that the governor had decided to move all the boroughs from red level on the COVID-19 dial to orange level, but was a little stunned.

“This announcement just blew me away. I didn’t expect it to happen so soon. I was expecting it to happen in January. “

New Year’s Eve also brought news that Denver would look to join the five-star program, which will allow companies – at least in theory – to get better certification and more capacity. The city has gone to great lengths to organize it, said Eric Hiraga, executive director of Denver Economic Development and Opportunity.

“We are to set up an administrative committee and get help from non-profit organizations, the private sector, companies, chambers and industry associations. And that really helped, ”said Hiraga.

(Credit: CBS)

In Denver, up to 7,000 restaurants and other small businesses could apply. The creation of an inspection system was considered almost impossible. It is supplemented with volunteers.

“We need to train employees to screen these applicants. Prioritize. We need to train inspectors or auditors to really see the sights on-site, whether it’s a restaurant, retail location, salon, or gym. ”

While Denver will go Level Orange to return to indoor dining on Monday, the five-star program is likely weeks after that.

As restaurants began planning major openings in advance, they still needed clarification from the state, said Sonia Riggs, president and CEO of the Colorado Restaurant Association.

“We thought it was pretty black and white with the governor’s announcement,” Riggs said.

Companies in countries where the program is already in place had hoped that by switching from Level Red to Leve Orange, the Five Stars would bring them to Level Yellow, which includes an increase to 50% capacity.

“We hear now that this may not be the case. In fact, that it probably isn’t. It’s honestly frustrating and confusing, ”Riggs said.

(Credit: CBS)

The 50% occupancy even struggles with rules that limit the capacity of some restaurants to 50 people. But Gruitch has hopes.

“It’s a game changer. You know the 25% is a struggle. It’s a really big fight. ”

She hopes the 10 foot between tables requirement can be rolled back to six.

“There’s a lot of things in our restaurants that don’t change six feet away because three out of four of our restaurants are pretty small.”

The Colorado Restaurant Association says many need a lot more capacity to really make it through.

“Restaurants told us that they need to be at least 75 percent capacity to survive in the medium term,” Riggs said.

The CDPHE says, however, that the companies in the five-star program need to stay at level orange with others. In an email following the request from CBS4 on Thursday evening, it said, “Districts participating in the 5-star program and upgrading to the Orange level next week must maintain the required Orange Level metrics for a period of time before moving can switch to the Yellow Level capacities. We will be in touch with them in the coming days to provide additional information. ”

When was not clear. However, those in charge in Denver said the five-star certification will accelerate promotion once the county moves up. Not soon enough for restaurants all over Colorado, Riggs believes.

“So 25% is really difficult. It’s certainly a step in the right direction, but it won’t help these restaurants survive for the next several months. “