The new guidelines proposed in Gov. Kate Brown’s phased plan for reopening will undeniably have a major impact on small restaurants statewide.
Oregon restaurants, breweries, bars and distilleries will now have to close shop by 10pm, adequately space their customers and provide employees with cloth face masks which are to be worn during business hours. No parties of 10 or more will be permitted, and all tables must be at least 6 feet apart (customers sitting at the same table will not have to be 6 feet apart). Self-service operations will be prohibited, meaning that salad bars, soft drink machines and growler fill stations will remain shut down until further notice.
See Bend restauranteurs talk reopenings and closings in this Source video:
Pre-set condiments, water glasses, napkins and utensils will be disallowed, and reservation systems will be strongly encouraged. Employees will be required to sanitize tables, chairs and other points of contact in between each customer, and must wash and/or sanitize their hands before moving from one customer to the next.
While some small businesses - such as salons, boutiques, and art galleries - will be allowed to open their doors on May 15 with new practices in place - restaurants will need to wait until their counties are approved by the state for comprehensive reopening. If restaurants are not able to successfully operate under these new guidelines they will continue to be limited to delivery and takeout.
- Cayla Clark
- Being restricted to to-go and delivery hasn't hurt Planker Sandwiches too much, though the owner of the local restaurant is looking forward to reopening.
Some restaurant owners and employees are eager for the stay at home orders to be lifted, while others are concerned about the lasting impact that these strict guidelines will have on their small brick and mortars. For Devin Sims, the owner of Bend’s new vegan eatery Deeply Rooted, the initial shutdown posed a bigger threat to the budding business than the upcoming reopening. “We were set to officially open our doors on the 28th of March,” Sims explained.
“We had a party and everything planned… we were going to host a soft-opening on the 23rd. So essentially, the day our doors were set to open, we found out that our doors had to stay shut for the foreseeable future.” Sims confirmed that opening a new restaurant during such a strange and uncertain time was no small feat. “While takeout has been sustainable, it’s not really the business we want, or the business that will ultimately keep us afloat.”
- Deeply Rooted
- A dish from Deeply Rooted.
He noted that one benefit of the current restrictions was the restaurant’s ability to tweak the menu, making improvements before the dining room opens up to the public. In regards to when that will be and what that will look like, Sims said, “Things keep changing. We might be able to reopen on the 15th, that’s the last I heard, but it seems as if everything is being pushed to the last minute. We’re starting to prepare for it [the reopening] this week, but I’m not too hopeful. It’s really alarming that things are being pushed to the last minute.”
Sims and his team put a great deal of effort into the design of the restaurant, which has since been completely rethought. “The initial dining style revolved around communal eating. We have one big communal table in the middle of the dining room. It’s going to be hard to make necessary adjustments because we’re working with such a tight space. What started out as a 12-person table is now a six-person table, and we have taped X’s to make sure that social distancing protocol is being followed. We’re not sure if people will be allowed to sit at the bar, but if so, we’re going to remove every other seat. Some tables might be moved outside, we might order more two-set tables to incorporate more outside dining. We’ll have to do a lot of reconstruction. It’s tough because we really have no idea what the guidelines are, no one has specifically told us. We know the basics, like staying 6 feet apart, wearing a mask… but until we get a notice outlining the actual restrictions, it’s really all just a guessing game. We’re being forced to take things day-by-day, which isn’t ideal.”
“It’s been somewhat difficult to get the word out, because people have been staying in,” said Sims. “If this was a normal summer, we would rely on word-of-mouth to continuously increase our customer base. Bend businesses also rely heavily on tourism, and with fewer tourists we’ll be depending more on locals. We also want to keep the local community fed! We’re offering free delivery to people within about four miles of the restaurant. Right now it isn’t about making a profit, it’s about getting our name out there and helping our community however we can.”
- Deeply Rooted
- Bend's newest vegan eatery has been open for business since mid-March, though staying afloat amidst a pandemic hasn't been easy for this new business.
Horn also explained that finding enough pork and beef products had become somewhat of an impossibility. “Every time I’ve found products like pork shoulder or bacon, something we need for our menu items, I’ve gotten them right in the nick of time. It’s concerning, because there’s no way of knowing if these shortages are going to get worse or better.” He explained that while focusing on takeout didn’t hurt the business in spite of product shortages, reopening was something he was looking forward to.
“People are itching to get back out and hit restaurants,” said Horn. “There’s a large number of people that dine out for enjoyment, that’s what they like to do. Of course, there will be those who are still timid about the situation. But I know we’ll be busy right out of the gate. Takeout is half of our business, so when we reopen we’ll be looking at doubling that. We’ve been hiring people ahead of time in anticipation of reopening; we’re already on that path. But it will be a hard adjustment, no question. We’ll be cutting our capacity in half.” Horn explained that outdoor seating was going to be a necessary addition to most downtown restaurants reopening, which Sims corroborated.
- Cayla Clark
- Often boasting a line out the door, 900 Wall has been shut down for a couple of months - and restrictions to reopen are proving to be quite a hurdle.
“With the guidelines that are currently in place, our capacity will be cut in half,” he said. “We won’t have bar seating, which is huge for us. We’re trying to figure out something that will work for everyone while improving downtown walkability. We rely on July, August and September, so we need to find a creative solution. Eliminating between 80 and 90 parking spots seems like a small compromise. During the summer cars constantly have to brake for the non-stop stream of pedestrians.”
Mindy Aisling, Executive Director of the Downtown Bend Business Association, confirmed that assessing the benefits of a car-free downtown was currently in the works. "Our organization is reaching out to all stakeholders to assess whether or not a majority is in favor," she said. "Before making such a big decision, we will need to check in with all of the small businesses in the downtown area; retailers, spas, office buildings. There are over 400 businesses downtown and only 60 of them are restaurants. Once we have the appropriate input we will vote on our official position. We have no opinion yet, ultimately we want whats in the best interest of all small businesses and community members. We are still just gathering data at this time."
Limited seating isn’t the only issue Eslinger and his team will face as a result of the new restrictions. “What’s going to prove a big challenge when it comes to the 6-foot guideline is controlling flow to the restrooms,” he said. “It seems like such a simple thing, but it’s a huge issue. Our plan at this point is to have a bathroom monitor to make sure people aren’t interacting in the hallway. It seems crazy, but it’s necessary.”
- Cayla Clark
It’s important to note that social distancing guidelines don’t just affect customers - staff members must abide by protocol as well. “In July and August it’s often over 100 degrees in our kitchen,” Eslinger said. “It’s crazy hot in there. Standing over a grill for eight hours, wearing a thick cotton mask… it's something else to consider. We’re fully supportive of guidelines, but meeting them all will definitely be challenging.”