ORLA calls foul over random restaurant dining caps

By Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association,

The framework for mitigating Covid risk in Oregon across a variety of industries has come with a certain level of experimentation by the Oregon Health Authority as they determine business restrictions during the ongoing health emergency. One of those experiments not followed by virtually any other state is a total number of people cap including staff for indoor and outdoor restaurant operations.

Oregon’s extreme risk category includes a limit of 50 total people outdoors including the restaurant staff with no consideration given to the amount of space the restaurant has available to keep physical distancing in place for customers. In Oregon’s high-risk category, indoor dining can open but for a total of 50 people indoors and 75 people outdoors including staff.

“After consistently bringing this issue up with the Governor’s office with no change, we feel it is time to raise the alarm on industry restrictions that have no commonsense justifications,” said Greg Astley, Director of Government Affairs for the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association. “Like so many other states, we have repeatedly brought up percent capacity as the national standard for restaurant operations. Having an arbitrary total person cap on indoor and outdoor seating that for some reason does not take into account total square footage and also for some unknown reason includes staff who wear face coverings at all times is completely unacceptable.”

With appropriate physical distancing between dining parties both indoors and outdoors based on percent capacity restrictions, Oregon could add a few thousand more jobs to our statewide economy right now.

“Our family-owned Old Spaghetti Factory restaurants are having to turn former employees away from work and we don’t have a rational explanation for them as to why we can’t use the vast empty spaces in our dining rooms by following a percentage capacity model just like so many other states across the country,” said Dean Griffith, President of Old Spaghetti Factory. “These details matter as we continue vaccinating vulnerable Oregonians. In addition, including staff in our total person count while they wear face coverings at all times like other retail locations is pure discrimination against our industry. This total person cap rule should be rescinded as soon as possible which would bring Oregon more in line with other areas of the country.”

States across the country continue to adopt clear percentage capacity restrictions on total number of customers for restaurant locations while making substantial progress against the virus. As cases continue to drop across the country, more data is becoming available showcasing little to no difference in virus mitigation in states with aggressive restrictions versus those who have kept businesses open. The latest example has been summarized in a New York Post article comparing California’s approach to virus mitigation in Florida. A link to that analysis can be found here.

Industry operators across the state are growing increasingly impatient with the lack of adjustments to Oregon’s risk categories which could help the state’s second largest private sector industry save jobs and important components of local economies throughout the state.

“The bottom line is this – restaurants should be open at 50% capacity right now across the state with physical distancing,” said Astley. “We’re tired of being left behind as Oregonians gather in private households with face coverings off compared to our controlled restaurant environments with commercial grade ventilation units. It’s time for a new chapter in the fight against Covid to acknowledge the strides we have made in vaccinating vulnerable populations.”

For more information on the efforts of the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association please visit OregonRLA.org.