With Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announcing late today that Santa Fe restaurants can phase to a "soft" reopening via patio or outdoor space, the future of eating out is looking brighter than it has in weeks.

To sweeten the deal, a new city permitting process will allow Santa Fe restaurants citywide to begin service in nontraditional outside areas so long as the space is contiguous to its existing floor plan and restaurants adhere to city regulations and CSPs or "Covid Safe Practices."

Available here, the application went into effect last Friday and is open to any Santa Fe restaurants that can make it work within the confines of their existing space. There is a $100 processing fee.

"We're not suggesting closing down streets, we're suggesting that in many locations it's possible to take, say, one or two parking spaces in front of a facility—while being careful we don't obstruct spaces to another business—or a sidewalk, depending on the width of the sidewalk," city tourism head Randy Randall tells SFR, "and to the extent any restaurant can figure out how to use that extra little bit of space within [city] regulations and CSPs."

Randall says the city's Public Works department will consider and vet the applications, but that his department took the lead in getting the word out to provide the process extra care.

"Restaurants relate both to residents and visitors, and we've got 385 restaurants that we work with through santafe.org," he says of his department's role. "One of the most important things to me is that this be available to any restaurant in the city—not just in the historic district;  we don't really have a 'restaurant row' situation and our restaurants are really scattered."

Additionally, Randall says, the city is working with the Greater Santa Fe Restaurant Association to get the word out to their mailing list and as many restaurants as possible.

"It's allowing the restaurants to use spaces and have some imminent domain over sidewalks, and you might have restaurants that don't typically do that," says Katharine Wright, director of the association. "I think people are going to be very creative, and while we might see fewer people who are wanting to dine inside, they'll find ways to enjoy the outdoor experience."

How this will work for restaurants on busier streets or in strip malls is unclear, and Randall says that provisions for to-go alcohol sales have not been worked into the process yet. All restaurants, however, are eligible, Randall says, and how the new provisions work will evolve over time. The early steps are as much about figuring out what works as creating opportunities for restaurants.

For Marcy Street's Il Piatto, which already has a small patio for dining, the prospect of adding more outdoor seating is a step in the right direction. It's been closed since the early days of the pandemic, but according to owner/chef Matt Yohalem, the new provisions are the result of grassroots campaigning from local restaurant owners, such as himself.

"I spent countless hours last week trying to pave the way," he says. "This is the start of recreating the downtown Santa Fe experience for years to come—this isn't a band-aid, it's a step toward the future."

Yohalem has not heard back about his application just yet, though he says he feels good about his chances, and the chances for the foodservice business in Santa Fe.

Wright says most are already prepared to make new dining areas possible.

"They've always been required to go above and beyond with hygienic practices, safety practices, OSHA, all those things," she says. "That's certainly something the restaurants are more than prepared for."