New ‘Extreme Risk’ Standards Will Result in Indoor Dining Continuity but More Needs to Change
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 7, 2021
Jason Brandt, President & CEO, ORLA
503.302.5060 | JBrandt@OregonRLA.org
Wilsonville, OR– The framework for mitigating Covid risk in Oregon across a variety of industries has changed once again with newly established statewide hospitalization metrics among other factors defining Oregon’s new ‘Extreme Risk’ category. As a result, all Oregon counties for the first time in many months will once again have access to indoor dining operations.
“The news this week is bittersweet,” said Jason Brandt, President & CEO of the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association. “While five counties moved down in risk (Grant, Malheur, Umatilla, Coos, and Curry), six moved up in risk (Clackamas, Deschutes, Klamath, Linn, Multnomah, and Tillamook) which means moving down from 50% to the dreaded 25% indoor capacity restriction starting Friday, April 9. Anything less than 50% capacity poses ongoing survival challenges for our small businesses.”
In a press release issued by Governor Brown’s office, Oregon’s new extreme risk category includes a new statewide metric: Covid-19 positive patients occupying 300 hospital beds or more, and a 15% increase in the seven-day average over the previous week. As of April 6, Covid-19 related hospitalizations totaled 163 in Oregon.
“We are past due in developing a hospitalization metric as the central tool to determine all county risk levels,” said Brandt. “Over 2 million vaccine doses have been administered in Oregon. The risk associated with each Covid case diminishes with each vaccination and our stringent risk categories have not changed since they were implemented to mitigate the severity of Oregon’s winter surge.”
Concern regarding variants have been commonly cited by health officials as the reason for ongoing economic restrictions as the majority of other states move well past Oregon’s reopening status. According to recent comments by Dr. Dean Sidelinger, initial results show all vaccines to be effective in preventing serious Covid illness even if the virus is still contracted and results in a documented case.
“As we learn about the effectiveness of vaccines in protecting Oregonians against serious illness caused by variants, we should use that crucial information to change the crippling restrictions still being lived out by too many Oregonians,” said Brandt. “After reviewing all the facts, any reasonable person would conclude the vaccines are effective at keeping Oregonians out of the hospital and as a result, our risk metrics and widespread economic restrictions should change accordingly.”
ORLA continues to call for a statewide indoor restaurant capacity of at least 50% including an adoption of physical distancing standards between parties that align with international health guidelines (1 meter or 3.2 feet).
For more information on the efforts of the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association please visit OregonRLA.org.
The Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association is the leading business association for the foodservice and lodging industry in Oregon, which before COVID-19 provided over 180,000 paychecks to working Oregonians.
[April 9, 2021] - Updates from Your State Association
ORLA Joins Business Community on Priorities for the American Rescue Plan Revenues - The $6 billion in federal aid expected by state and local governments in Oregon represents an unprecedented transfusion of cash that could prove transformational – if it is invested wisely. ORLA joins a coalition of business leaders urging the Governor and state leaders to consider the investments in three parts: 1) Near-term for programs that assist individuals, families, businesses and nonprofits still struggling financially; 2) Longer-term for substantial investments in carefully selected projects that will bolster our economic base and yield returns to Oregonians for decades to come, and 3) A contingency set-aside for unforeseen challenges in the next few years. Read the letter.
OLCC Approves “Floor Pricing" - Despite much testimony in opposition, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) approved a floor pricing proposal for distilled spirits which increases the price of the lowest priced spirits sold in Oregon liquor stores. ORLA joined other business groups affiliated with alcohol licensees testifying that floor pricing jeopardizes the hospitality industry’s fragile recovery. “Now is not the time to make it more difficult for bars and restaurants to do business and serve customers. Let’s build on the good will of the accomplishments of the past year,” said Greg Astley from the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association.
[April 5, 2021] - Vaccine Toolkit; Preparing Your Frontline Workers
Last week the Governor announced frontline workers (including all hospitality workers, as defined by the CDC) and their families are eligible for a vaccine starting April 5. We want to make sure you are aware of the resources available to help you communicate important information about vaccines to your workers, and to give them information about how to find locations and appointments.
Here are some key resources to share with your employees:
Find more resources and an Employer Toolkit on ORLA's COVID-19 Resources & Announcements page.
[April 1, 2021] - OSHA Permanent Rule Response from ORLA
ORLA alongside other business groups has been actively engaged in the rulemaking process for workplace safety in Covid times and Oregon OSHA has been one of the more aggressive OSHA agencies across the country in trying to create new rules. Earlier today, ORLA submitted our response which is in line with ongoing coordination amongst other state business groups that have been actively engaged in the rulemaking process since the beginning of the year. Read the official ORLA response to the proposal to create a permanent COVID rule that would need to be adhered to by all workplaces for an undetermined amount of time.
[March 31, 2021] - Business Coalition Unites to Push for Changes to OSHA Rules
The Oregon Legislative Session continues but in the past few weeks there have been a few victories worth noting as we fight on the frontlines with other legislative bills that remain alive for consideration. On the good news front, House Bill 3296 which would have exponentially increased taxes on alcohol is no longer viable. The broader beverage alliance guarding against increased taxes at this time remains on watch for other proposals that could emerge. But for now, a special thanks to ORLA members and the broader beverage industry for impressive mobilization that helped derail the tax proposal.
In other news, a broad coalition of business associations have joined together in submitting the following response to Oregon OSHA’s proposed permanent rule relating to Covid. ORLA continues to be actively involved with other groups to make sure the permanent rule is rescinded at the conclusion of the state of emergency. The reason a permanent rule is even in the mix after the adoption of a temporary rule approximately 4 months ago is due to a state law making temporary rules active for a maximum of 180 days. Since the Covid health emergency has lasted well beyond the temporary timeframe, a permanent rule is being pursued but not without strong advocacy from business groups to make sure the permanent rule does in fact expire once the Covid health emergency in effect from Governor Brown is behind us.
Other important developments include a public hearing to bring more relief to our industry as well as others dealing with spiking unemployment insurance tax rates. ORLA will be actively engaged alongside our members for a public hearing scheduled for Thursday, April 1 at 1pm for House Bill 3389. The bill introduced in the past few weeks needs some stronger relief for hard hit industries like hospitality but the foundation of the bill is in good shape for potential amendments that could make a real difference for Oregon’s hospitality industry. ORLA will also be watching the progress of another bill we support – House Bill 3177 which is scheduled for a work session on Thursday, April 1 at 8am. Many of you took action on the bill which would put power back in the hands of Oregon’s legislature to determine appropriate economic sanctions for industries reeling from the economic impacts of Covid including foodservice and fitness establishments.
To see the latest activity on legislative bills, visit ORLA's Legislative Bill Tracking page.
[March 18, 2021] - Oregon's UI Trust Fund Balance / Taxing Forgiven PPP Loans? / It's a Warning Week
It’s a very busy week in the Oregon Legislature. Here are the latest updates overall at the association. A more detailed Advocacy Update will be sent to ORLA members soon from our Director of Government Affairs Greg Astley. As always reach out with any questions or comments.
Oregon’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) Trust Fund Balance
Recently the United States Chamber of Commerce pulled together the fund balances available to every state to pay unemployment insurance benefits. You might be surprised to hear like we were that Oregon has the best funded trust fund in the nation. This isn’t based on population or some per capita assessment. Take a look at the UI Trust Fund Comparison spreadsheet. My favorite new line to use is “After paying out benefits to unemployed Oregonians through all of 2020, Oregon still has more money in our trust fund right now compared to what California had before Covid even started.” So you may ask, why the egregious increase in our tax rates? We have the same question. ORLA, Oregon Business & Industry, NFIB, and other business partners are working together to solve this problem.
Taxing Forgiven PPP Loans?
You heard that right. Some in the Oregon Legislature thought it would be a good idea to tax your PPP funds. Proposed amendments to House Bill 2457 would have amounted to a surprise tax bill on businesses across Oregon. Our friends at OBI and NFIB rallied the business community to quickly respond with this statement once the amendment was posted and a work session on the bill was cancelled this past Tuesday after the coalition submitted the attached opposition letter. We will keep a watchful eye on future attempts such as this before the legislature adjourns at the beginning of Summer.
It's a Warning Week
While more and more states move to new models of operation of at least 50% capacity statewide for restaurants, Oregon continues to hold on to its county by county risk assessment system. See the latest case counts from Monday’s county by county Oregon Health Authority County Risk Level report. The data that stands out to me in the document is as follows:
[March 12, 2021] - It's a Movement Week; Latest ORLA Press Releases
President Biden’s news last night is a good sign that our vaccination timelines will be moving up and help clear the way for a steady increase in lodging and restaurant business later this spring. This news also assists us in our ambitious lineup of ORLA events: Virtual PAC fundraiser “Bid for a Better Industry” June 16-24), ORLA Open Golf Tournament July 26, Northwest Food Show August 1-2, Play it Fore-Ward for Hospitality August 24, and ORLA Hospitality Conference September 19-20. (View all ORLA events here)
Portland Tourism Improvement District - ORLA’s Portland Lodging Alliance in the past few months has been busy working on a number of challenges facing the Portland market while also deciding to move forward in support of a one percent increase in Portland’s Tourism Improvement District self-assessment. The Tourism Improvement District self-assessment will now be 3 percent instead of 2 percent and will continue to be overseen by a board of lodging operators for investments in lodging industry priorities. Although often reported as a tax increase, it is very different from a tax since all the funds raised are not shared for purposes outside tourism improvement. 100% of the 3 percent TID will continue to go towards tourism investments and should assist the Portland market in their rebound and by extension, Oregon overall. The increase was approved unanimously by the Portland Lodging Alliance group within ORLA. Mike Daley, who serves a dual role on the ORLA Board while also serving as Chair of the Travel Portland Board of Directors has been working incredibly hard in his volunteer roles during a crazy year for the lodging industry. We thank him for keeping the lines of communication open and for facilitating conversations amongst lodging operators so we can plan out our approach to getting things back on track.
It's a Movement Week - Earlier this week, Governor Kate Brown announced the latest round of county movements which directly impact the way in which our members and the industry can operate their businesses. As of today, we have 13 counties in Low Risk (50% indoor capacity for restaurants with no ‘total person cap’ limits and midnight closing time / 50% capacity for indoor pools/hot tubs), 12 counties at Moderate Risk (50% indoor capacity for restaurants or 100 total people indoors including staff, whichever is less and still 11pm closing time / 50% capacity for indoor pools/hot tubs or 100 total people, whichever is less), 9 counties at High Risk (25% indoor capacity for restaurants or 50 people total including staff, whichever is less and 11pm closing time / 25% capacity for indoor pools/hot tubs or 50 people total, whichever is less), and 2 counties still in Extreme Risk (no indoor dining capacity, outdoor seating only if available to the restaurant / no more than 6 people total for indoor pool/hot tub use at a time).
View the latest Google Doc showing all the County Risk Level movement. As a refresher, view the Sector Risk Level Guidance chart which details all the business restrictions in the 4 risk categories.
Latest ORLA Press Releases - This week, ORLA released two press releases. One on industry workforce shortages and one on our desire to see an elimination of the ‘total person caps’ in our risk categories. We are still averaging about 6-12 media engagements per week. Engagements vary depending on the level of interest in the media for a particular theme. As many of you can probably relate to, we had a significant response to our workforce shortage query out to the ORLA membership.
Weekly Advocacy Updates - A special thanks to our Government Affairs Co-Chairs TJ Birkel and Nick Pearson for their ongoing leadership of ORLA’s Government Affairs Committee. Greg Astley, ORLA’s Director of Government Affairs and Bill Perry, ORLA’s contract lobbyist continue to work with our Co-Chairs to hold weekly check-in meetings for interested Government Affairs Committee members on the status of the Oregon Legislative Session. In addition, ORLA is increasing the frequency of our advocacy updates on top of our ongoing bill tracking capability so interested members can keep tabs on the flow of the session.
As always, please reach out to us with any questions.
[March 8, 2021] - American Rescue Plan Passes: Win for Hospitality!
The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, including the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), is being sent to President Biden for a signature. Passage of this bill represents an enormous win for the hospitality industry and comes after much collaboration and continued pressure from our national affiliates including the National Restaurant Association, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, and Asian American Hotel Owners Association. ORLA has been working with our national partners to mobilize industry members and contribute to a collective voice on industry-specific assistance needed from the start of the pandemic.
The American Rescue Plan bill includes significant assistance and provisions including:
Read more about the American Rescue Plan.
[Click the "Read More" link for archived blog updates]
A New Training Tool Can Help
A picture is worth a thousand words. Excited and Cautious, Ready and Scary sums up the attitude of guests who may soon be walking through our doors for the first time in a year.
Increasing numbers of home-bound travelers are tentatively scheduling vacations while many take-out diners seek to enjoy a meal somewhere inside other than home. Still, top of mind for most people who have stayed home since the pandemic’s first lock-down is safety.
Tripadvisor's research on travelers’ booking criteria in 2020: 92% said “Cleanliness is the most important factor in selecting accommodations.” According to an OpenTable survey, a high percentage of consumers indicate that they make their dining choices based on the comfort level they have with a restaurant’s safety protocols.
YOU may be confident about the procedures you have put into place, but how can you help make your potential customer feel comfortable enough to venture out for the first time? Research shows that how you communicate pre-arrival is exceptionally important to ease concern.
Best Practice: Just as you have probably expressed on your own website, both Tripadvisor and Yelp have added space for businesses to describe their Covid safety practices. Balanced messaging is important, however. Having an enjoyable experience is, as it always has been, the motivation for travel and for dining out. While using the word ‘contactless’ can convey a good safety practice, might it also sound sterile to someone who is yearning to break out of forced isolation? Describing what guests can expect in terms of safety and enjoyment is consistent with hospitality that distinguishes a property.
Read remarks from a few properties that are highly ranked, and you will notice comments such as, “though the confirmation said that amenities could be limited, we appreciated they told us that the pool was available by reservation so social distance could be maintained and we could still use and enjoy it....” Or, perhaps, “because of Covid, while it wasn’t the same busy and high energy atmosphere we had previously enjoyed, our server went out of his way to be extra-friendly and the food was as delicious as always so we will continue to return."
Emphasizing that you seek to provide both a safe and enjoyable atmosphere is the balance that many customers seek not only to make, but to keep, their reservation. Ensuring that guests experience both will boost confidence and return intent.
What If? Have we ever been as aware of the CDC or FDA as we all are these days? With this kind of emphasis, you can anticipate that many guests will be very observant about how closely your team follows recommended safety practices and even compare yours to other locations they have visited. Being a germaphobe is not as nerdy as it used to be.
A friend shared with me that, after observing how hastily a bus person wiped down the table when a diner left, she decided not to stay because it did not seem very thorough for Covid cleanliness concerns. Another friend told me that they chose a hotel based on the property’s Covid Safety Health Pledge. After noticing some cobwebs in their room, however, they felt nervous about how closely that pledge was followed, and they regretted their travel plans. She has not traveled since.
I wondered if their reactions might have been different if they had conveyed their concerns to a service person who was able to respond and re-instill confidence? I realized that the situation was similar to any complaint about a misstep and that confidence may have been recoverable if handled correctly. At least there would have been a chance, anyway. The walk away is probably a forever lost opportunity and the potential word of mouth even worse.
Best Practice: While cleaning used to be something we did in the background away from guest sight, we now realize that allowing customers to see it in action can be a confidence builder. Seeing is believing. What plans do you have in place with your team members to address guest observations that may be similar to the concerns voiced by my friends? No matter how much we plan and practice, there are bound to be at least a few protocol missteps and/or encounters with highly sensitive guests. Are your associates as confident with words and actions they should take to address a guest’s safety concerns as they would be with typical pre-Covid complaints? Anticipating challenges and preparing credible responses can help repair a guest’s confidence and ensure that your safety goals are met.
New Resource: The Oregon Hospitality Foundation, ORLA’s nonprofit 501c3, has just released a new and on-demand video-based training tool, Providing Service While Supporting Safety. The course addresses opportunities like those mentioned above.
Four challenging scenarios are portrayed, communication, credibility, compliance, and creating a positive experience. Participants first watch an example of an ineffective service response which results in a negative guest experience. This is followed with narrative coaching and a more effective service approach is portrayed ending with discussion questions. Both restaurant and hotel versions are available, each with helpful worksheets, and both are offered with a Spanish subtitle option. Since time is a premium, scenarios can be viewed individually in less than 15 minutes. Course access is via sliding scale donation, group codes and tracking are also available. See more at OregonGuestServiceSafety.org.
What’s next? A recent Destination Analysts report provides rational optimism about our industry’s recovery, with all momentum tied to the lessening of safety concerns. In the February 22, 2021 report, they note “Each week more Americans have been vaccinated as well as know others who have, more trips in the short term appear… As COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to decline after their January peak, Americans’ optimism about the month ahead soared an additional five percentage points in the last week, reaching another record high. Now 44.2 percent feel the pandemic situation in the United States will improve over the next four weeks...”
While we all realize that turnaround will take time, earning and retaining consumer confidence in our industry’s safety practices, as well as creating positive experiences, will be essential to continuing momentum. | WENDY POPKIN, OREGON HOSPITALITY FOUNDATION
Wendy Popkin is the Executive Director of the Oregon Hospitality Foundation, a nonprofit 501c3 dedicated to providing educational, training, and philanthropic support to Oregon’s restaurant, lodging, and tourism industry. Wendy is a 35-year career veteran who describes herself as “fanatically enthusiastic about helping others enjoy the same type of fabulous career opportunities I have enjoyed in the hospitality industry.” OregonHospitalityFoundation.org