: Kathleen Nyberg / McMenamins

What to Expect at Oregon Restaurants During COVID-19

September 3, 2020 (Updated May 25, 2021)

Editor’s note: Call destinations before you visit to make sure they’re open. Follow all COVID-19 guidelines, get vaccinated before you travel and remember to bring your face covering.

Top Things to Know: 

  • Face Coverings May Be Required
  • Call Ahead – Make a Reservation 
  • Be Flexible and Open to New Seating or Business Practices
  • Restaurant Staff Are Working Harder – Be Patient
  • Extra Emphasis on Cleaning  
  • Consider Takeout as an Option 

If the past year has taught us anything, it is that eating out at a restaurant in Oregon is a treat in its own right and should be appreciated as such. Servers wait on you, top-notch chefs cook for you and there are no dishes to clean afterward. But the dining experience you’ve come to know and love looks a little bit different now. 

Regulations for restaurants vary depending on which part of the state you’re in, so be sure to check your county’s Risk Level status, which determines capacity limits and whether or not a restaurant can offer indoor dining. When choosing a spot to eat, look out for restaurants that display a Commitment to Safety seal at their business or on their website. The seal is a designation by the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association (ORLA) that indicates the business is in compliance with best safety practices related to COVID-19. Whether you’ve been missing your favorite restaurant meals or are just opting out of another home-cooked meal, here are some things to keep in mind before heading out to eat.

A More Intimate Experience

Across the state, restaurants have reduced their capacity. Many establishments have opened or expanded their outdoor patio space for fresh-air dining, like Terminal Gravity Brewing in Enterprise. This warm-weather trend is something that many restaurants are prepared to adapt to colder days with covered patios, tents and outdoor heaters. No matter what their size, restaurants are required to adhere to social-distancing rules, with tables spaced at least 6 feet apart and dining party sizes limited to 10 people or fewer. While restaurants may feel a bit emptier, there is a bright side of the change: more intimacy. 

“The dining experience now includes much less distraction within your environment,” says Jason Brandt, president and CEO of ORLA. “It feels like a different experience, with more focus on who you are dining with as opposed to what’s going on around you.” Brandt added that he has dined indoors and has witnessed the safety precaution firsthand. “Safety and sanitation is in our DNA,” he said. “We already know how to take care of our employees and guests, we’re just having to up our game that much more.”

Many restaurants expanded their outdoor dining offerings to meet the state requirements. All outdoor dining should include open-air space that may have a temporary or fixed cover with room for airflow. Restaurants in high-risk counties are limited to 25% maximum occupancy, whereas moderate- and low-risk counties cannot exceed 50% maximum occupancy or 100 people, whichever is smaller — so it’s important to know the COVID risk level of your county.

A masked girl holds a donut up to her eye.
Your Oregon dining experience may look different during COVID-19. (Photo by New Cascadia Traditional)

Your Table and the Restaurant May Look Different

Once you’ve been seated at your table, you’ll likely notice some things are missing. Restaurants across the state are not allowed to have preset tables, so you can expect to receive your cutlery from waitstaff. Condiments are now being served in single-use containers. Self-service stations, such as water stations or buffets, are not allowed, so you’ll have to rely on your waitstaff to get you what you need. The menu may also look different, as restaurants are encouraged to use single-use, laminated or white-board menus. Some restaurants are forgoing physical menus entirely and instead have at each table a card depicting a QR code, a square-shaped barcode which when scanned with your smartphone’s camera will send you to a website to order food and drinks. 

Two people wear masks while holding plates of food.
Across the state, restaurants have updated their operations with COVID-19 in mind. (Photo courtesy of McKay Cottage)

Call Ahead to Plan Your Meal Time

While you’re at a restaurant, pay attention to how long you’re spending at your table. Restaurants are operating at reduced capacity, so lingering at your table could mean even less business for them. Call ahead to see if reservations are required or recommended, and if not, be prepared to wait outside until seating opens up. Reservations may include an end time to set the expectations for table turnaround. “Every operator wants their customers to have an enjoyable experience,” Brandt says. “We just have to be a little more cognizant of our behavior and enjoy that flexible, casual experience in a restaurant while still being intentional so that the experience exists in the long term.” 

Restaurant Staff Are Working Harder

After temporary closures during the statewide lockdown and indoor-dining freezes, servers and restaurant staff are back at work and are excited to serve you. But keep in mind that they, too, are navigating the shifting protocols and new social etiquette. Waitstaff have had to change their ingrained work patterns to accommodate new regulations and, in some instances, are having to have hard conversations with customers. Businesses around the state may require face coverings indoors when visitors are between tables. Enforcing these rules is a job that often falls to the frontline workers. Consider showing your appreciation for their efforts with a more generous tip.

Masked people exchange a bag of a food at the entrance to a restaurant.
Consider ordering takeout from your favorite local restaurant. (Paley's Place by Andrea Johnson)

Extra Emphasis on Clean

While cleanliness has been a long-standing pillar of the restaurant industry, new guidelines and best practices during COVID-19 have changed the way staff are bussing tables. “It takes a little bit longer to clean every table because we just have to be that much more particular about cleaning every surface,” says Pam Morgan, who owns McKay Cottage Restaurant in Bend. Her staff cleans every saltshaker, armchair and menu, all of which she says her customers notice and appreciate. “Paying attention to all the little details I think makes the difference,” she says. “We need to stay open; we need to keep the economy going.”

Consider Takeout as an Option

If dining out is something you’re still not ready to do, note that in each phase of reopening, you can still enjoy restaurants by ordering takeout. Some restaurants, including some that haven’t in the past, are offering curbside pickup for to-go orders. This is a great option for a picnic or to take back to your home or hotel room. 

About The

Emily Gillespie
Emily Gillespie is a travel writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, CNN Travel and Afar magazine. She’s lived in three of Oregon’s seven regions, currently calling Portland home. She and her husband look for every opportunity to hike to a view, bike through wine country and eat their way through a new city.

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