Outdoor dining OK again in Oregon. How safe is it?


Bollywood Theater's setup is a good example as several sides of tent are open

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Outdoor dining was a great option during the summer, but as the weather changed and winter approached restaurants had to rethink the way they handled that.

Then came the governor’s 2-week COVID freeze. That has ended, but most of the state is in an Extreme Risk tier, one of the 4 new metric measurements being used by Oregon health officials.

The Bollywood Theater on SE Division in Portland, December 4, 2020 (KOIN)

Now, restaurants can return to outdoor dining. The Bollywood Theater on SE Division in Portland set up their tent on their patio just days before the last shut down. It hasn’t gotten much use yet, but owner Troy MacLarty is hopeful it will help bring in more customers.

“The staff is much much smaller, we’ve cut the menu back a little bit in order to keep everyone safe,” he said. “We used to have 5 people that worked together in the line and now there’s two.”

Currently they’re doing about one-third of the business they normally would and have had to make several changes, “but I think we’re making it work and I think we’ll get through this.”

They’re still only doing take-out and delivery but customers can now stay and eat outdoors, if they choose.

“I think it certainly helps from a number of perspectives. First and foremost, it creates some energy,” MacLarty told KOIN 6 News. “We’ve never opened up inside dining. We really tried to fall on the safe side for our employees, so having a place where people can sit where we feel safe adds some energy.”

But how safe is outdoor dining?

Health experts say it depends on what it looks like. Under the guidelines covered outdoor spaces are required to leave at last 75% of the square footage of the sides open for airflow.

“The trouble with that is people’s instinct is to say well, if we build a tent and put walls and a heater, whatever, it’s not really,” Peter Graven, the lead data scientist at OHSU, said. “Being outdoors is good, but the key is air changes per hour.”

Bollywood Theater’s setup is a good example because several sides of the tent are open.

Health experts say it’s all about the air flow. So, if you’re sitting in a completely enclosed structure and can’t feel the wind, it defeats the purpose and you may as well be eating indoors.

Troy MacLarty is doing what he can to keep his business going, follow the rules, keep the public safe and still have a good place for food.

“We are handling outside like it’s a place for people to have a picnic, so we’re doing all food to-go but people are welcome to stay and sit on the patio,” MacLarty said.

The Bollywood Theater on SE Division in Portland, December 4, 2020 (KOIN)

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