The Oregon Health Authority announced the state’s first presumptive case of the novel coronavirus on February 28, 2020, days before the beginning of the popular dining promotion Portland Restaurant Month. At that time, the impact of COVID-19 was already being felt in restaurant markets across the country, including Portland’s neighbor to the north, Seattle. Even before the Oregon case was announced, racist fears surrounding the new coronavirus’s ties to China were dramatically reducing traffic to Portland’s Asian American-owned restaurants.
As the number of Oregon’s presumptive and confirmed cases grew, Portland’s restaurant market felt the weight of the global pandemic: All of the state’s restaurants and bars were forced to either close or switch to takeout and delivery indefinitely. But even before Gov. Kate Brown announced her social distancing executive orders, restaurants known for large group celebration dinners were full of empty dining rooms, and downtown and hotel restaurants reliant on tourist business watched walk-in business drop exponentially.
On May 15, restaurants across the state began to slowly, tentatively, reopen dining rooms, following state orders to keep customers six feet apart and stop serving food at 10 p.m. On June 19, Portland joined the rest of the state, entering phase one reopening. Many restaurant owners were unsure if they wanted to welcome customers into their dining rooms, fearful of a resurgence or protective of their employees. Still, several decided to create outdoor dining spaces in streets or parking lots; some even consulted medical professionals before reopening their dining rooms. Customers began to return to bars and restaurants to dine onsite; business began to improve, thanks to outdoor patios.
But as winter approached, a new wave of positive cases climbed in Oregon, rising exponentially in November. So Brown decided to shut down indoor and outdoor dining once again throughout the state, just as many restaurants invested thousands of dollars in heated and covered temporary patios. In December, Brown quickly pivoted and introduced a new regulatory framework, which allowed restaurants to reopen for outdoor dining. By the end of the month, the state legislature passed new rules to help try to support the struggling industry, including a statewide cap on the fees delivery apps can charge restaurants and a temporary legalization of takeout cocktail sales.
In the summer of 2021, the state fully lifted its COVID-19 safety protocol framework, meaning restaurants and bars could serve customers maskless in an at-capacity dining room. However, as cases and hospitalizations skyrocketed in the wake of the delta variant, the state decided to re-instate its mask mandate; even with the new heightened restrictions, many restaurant and bar owners have gone even farther, asking customers to show proof of vaccination before letting them dine inside.
This stream tracks the various ways the Portland restaurant and bar scene has been impacted by the rise of COVID-19, as well as ways restaurants and diners have tried to keep the restaurant world thriving. For more information about COVID-19’s impact on the restaurant world at large, this tag features stories from Eater sites around the world.