By this time in 2019, Bend had already seen its first snowfall. While this might seem like a major inconvenience to Pumpkin Spice Latte-sipping, Ugg boot-wearing people, some local restaurant owners and employees are grateful that the cold weather is taking its time.
Jason Randles, branding and marketing manager for Crux Fermentation Project, explained that 2020 as a whole has prompted local restaurant owners to continuously think on their feet.
- Courtesy Crux Fermentation Project
- This winter will likely see a dramatic increase in fire pits and dedicated snow shovelers.
"Our plan was to do outdoor seating only through the summer," he said. "We had a plan in the works for winter, which we were forced to execute early because of the smoke. We had people inside only for about a week; now we're playing around with a combination of indoor and outdoor seating."
Crux, winner of the Source's 2020 Best Of "Best Locals' Hangout" (no doubt at least partially due to the expansive lawn and outdoor seating area), cut its capacity down by more than half when COVID guidelines and regulations were implemented. The looming winter months bring an ample amount of uncertainty, and local restaurant and brewery owners will— once again—be forced to adapt in new and uncharted ways.
"We'll implement some hybrid model of indoor and outdoor seating in the wintertime," Randles explained. "Right now, our indoor capacity is capped at around 40 people; we've had to reduce it significantly with no seating at the bar and space between tables. We'll have outdoor seating available where people can gather around fire pits. We'll keep a tent out there and put walls on it to create some additional seating outside. We've been doing our best to keep the creativity going in the brewhouse; we've got a new fall menu launching in a week or two. We've got our takeout menu and online ordering and curbside pickup option. This whole year has been an exercise in flexibility."
Cameron Sparks, a longtime McKay Cottage server, explained that staying up to speed with guidelines had been a major adjustment in and of itself. "I worked at the restaurant before lockdown, and business was a lot better," he said. "We've all had to adjust to wearing masks at work, sanitizing everything; the people who are enforcing restrictions have never had to deal with anything like this before, so they're really learning as they go. Customers also had to learn how to operate under these restrictions. It's been a learning experience for everyone involved."
- Courtesy Crux Fermentation Project
Sparks worked at McKay Cottage last winter, and noted that there was already a plan in place to make outdoor seating more comfortable in cold weather. "Heaters, fire pits... we used to have blankets available, but we can't do that anymore because we'd need to wash them in between each use," he said. "It's a big undertaking; restaurants that want to have outdoor seating available will need some type of heating system, workers who are willing to shovel snow and equipment to clear parking lots. Last winter we saw how things went day by day, but we always needed extra hands on deck. We would show up an extra hour or two before opening to clear the patio and shovel snow. Of course, that's an extra two hours of labor for everyone called in early, which is expensive. Now with less revenue overall and more work to do, things will probably get a little complicated. I'm anticipating taking a cut to my hours."
Pay cuts are not the only looming concerns come wintertime. "Increased risk of contracting COVID in the winter months is a risk I have to ignore," Sparks said. "I actually dissociate from the risk in order to maintain my livelihood. I'm around hundreds of people every day who aren't wearing masks at their tables. I can't focus too much on it; it's just a blanket risk that all restaurant employees are taking."
For Randles at Crux, remaining locals' go-to spot for a hangout—no matter what the weather—is what they're banking on.
"It's the local support that will keep us afloat. Those that never before relied on outdoor seating have certainly come to rely on it, and in the winter months there's no doubt local restaurants will take another hit."