Editor’s note: Face coverings (ages 5 and up) are required at all indoor and outdoor public spaces statewide, regardless of vaccination status. Learn more here.
Jesse Romero is a snowboarder and mountain biker at heart, but he has another passion he gets paid to do. He’s been cooking for more than 25 years, including the past three years as executive chef at Solstice Wood Fire Pizza, Cafe & Bar in Hood River.
Overseeing a restaurant in the midst of a pandemic is exactly as unpredictable as it might sound. “I was completely frontline this year. We were so short-staffed every day, I was doing whatever needed to get done before service,” he says.
That includes arriving early to prep the kitchen and support his crew, juggling staff requests for time off, dealing with vendors who are behind, running to the store to get supplies and even pitching in to make French fries. He’s had no time to manage the restaurant’s food truck or catering department as more hiccups arose, like the bumpy rollout of a new takeout app.
Most diners have been extremely supportive along the way, Romero says. However there are always challenging customers: “People were mad that their takeout took 45 minutes when it said 25 minutes. People that didn’t get to be seated got mad. People who didn’t want to wear masks got mad. People who thought it was too crowded got mad. It was pretty different and intense.”
Now, 18 months later as restaurants are still operating with curveballs every day, Romero has embraced his role and hopes diners might keep in mind the challenges of frontline workers when dining out at restaurants across Oregon — especially during busy times or seasons.
“Just be aware of your surroundings; read the signs; follow procedures,” he says. “Have an understanding that the world has changed, the restaurant industry has gone through a reckoning and it’s not settled yet. There’s a lot of true hospitality going around because the people here are truly in it and sacrificing themselves to be on the frontline. [Restaurants are] a place where many things come together — food and recreation — and it’s important to honor those things.”
Top Things to Know:
- Face Coverings Are Required
- Call Ahead – Make a Reservation
- Be Flexible and Open to New Seating or Business Practices
- Restaurant Staff Are Working Harder – Be Patient
- Order Takeout Wisely
If COVID-19 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 it’s important to keep in mind that dining out is also a privilege — and we all must do our part. Restaurants in Oregon are currently short-staffed, and those on the frontlines are doing everything they can to help you have a good experience.
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.
Patios and Fresh Air Year-Round
Many establishments have opened or expanded their outdoor patio space for fresh-air dining, like Terminal Gravity Brewing in Enterprise. The great news is that these cozy, cool-weather patios are now part of the dining landscape year-round, with the addition of tents and outdoor heaters.
Oregon’s restaurants, like other businesses, are encouraged to follow the state’s public health guidance on indoor air considerations for small spaces. This means smaller table arrangements, plexiglass shields between some tables and often HEPA filters for cleaner air. “Safety and sanitation is in our DNA,” says Jason Brandt, president and CEO of ORLA. “We already know how to take care of our employees and guests, we’re just having to up our game that much more.”
Face Coverings and Contactless Service
Once you’re seated at your table, some restaurants are continuing traditional service while others are now offering contactless service with a QR code — a square-shaped barcode that when scanned with your smartphone’s camera will send you to a website to order food and drinks. Servers and other restaurant workers are required to wear face coverings and customers are too, except while eating or drinking.
Call Ahead to Plan Your Meal Time
Many restaurants now accept reservations as well as walk-ins, and some restaurants have gone to reservation-only. Call ahead or check the restaurant’s website for their policy so you won’t be surprised. If you make a reservation and your plans change, make sure to cancel the reservation as early as possible so someone else can enjoy your space — it’s the courteous thing to do. If you choose to walk in and dine, be prepared to wait — especially if you’re requesting patio seating. “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.”
For added peace of mind you can look 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.
Restaurant Staff Are Working Harder
Waitstaff have had to change their ingrained work patterns to accommodate new regulations over the past 18 months and are forced to have hard conversations with customers. Wear your face coverings, follow other posted rules and be flexible with servers when dining in. Consider showing your appreciation for their efforts with a more generous tip.
Order Takeout Wisely
If you’d rather support your local restaurant from the comfort of your own home, ordering takeout is an excellent option. Whether you call in your order or place it online, it’s often simpler to pick it up in person rather than have it delivered. If you do request delivery, expect long wait times since delivery workers are in high demand. Don’t order a hot sandwich if it might arrive soggy. Don’t forget to tip your delivery person for great service.