Des Moines’ restaurants and bars would be allowed to increase the amount of outdoor seating for customers under a resolution expected to be approved today by the City Council.

The resolution is an effort to address the financial losses experienced by the city’s restaurants and bars that for more than eight weeks were not allowed to have dine-in services due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

In May, when restaurants and bars were allowed to again serve customers indoors, they could only do so at 50% capacity. That restriction severely limits owners’ ability to make enough money to cover expenses, let alone make a profit.

The resolution, titled “Dine Out Des Moines,” would allow establishments to expand outside seating areas to up to 50% of what is allowed indoors.

The city would expedite the application process and waive application and other fees. The city would also waive some liquor license requirements.

“This policy change could literally provide the breakeven point many of the city’s hospitality establishments need to survive,” Jessica Dunker, president and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association, wrote in an email to Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie last week. 

A survey done by the association found that restaurants and bars were expected to lose up to $310 million in sales in April. 

Several cities across the country are taking steps to allow restaurants and bars to expand outdoor seating while restrictions are in place limiting the amount of indoor seating, said Matt Anderson, Des Moines’ deputy city manager. Some cities have blocked off streets in entertainment districts to allow the expansion of outdoor seating, he said.

In Des Moines, outdoor seating would be allowed on sidewalks, parking lots, alleys and some city streets.

“This is not just a downtown program but it’s something that we hope that restaurants citywide can take part in,” Anderson said.

Before a restaurant or bar owner can offer the expanded outdoor seating, they must submit an application and site plan to the city for approval.

In addition, tables and chairs must be at least 6 feet apart and the outdoor area must be fenced off if alcohol is served. Establishments located in residential areas must end outdoor service by 9 p.m.; those in commercial and mixed-use areas must end outdoor service by 11:30 p.m.

The council is expected to approve the measure at its 4:30 p.m. meeting today, which will be held virtually.