PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Oregon’s restaurant and lodging industry, like many service organizations, struggled during the pandemic. Amid a post-pandemic comeback, the industry faces record-high inflation, labor shortages and in some cases, crime.
The Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association reports 2,000 out of the 10,000 restaurants across the state have closed since the start of COVID, but more than 1,200 have also opened.
“There’s a lot of course correction happening right now in the industry,” said Jason Brandt, president and CEO of ORLA. “What we’re seeing is some progress in our ongoing recovery efforts, but we’re not back to 2019 levels and that goes for both the restaurant and the lodging side.”
Brandt says there are several factors causing a lack of stability in the restaurant and lodging industries such as soaring food, beverage and food service equipment costs. The ORLA CEO explained this creates barriers for low-level profit margins.
“For every dollar a customer spends in our restaurants, 95 cents of that dollar go back into the people, the food and the place,” Brandt said.
“The key really is making sure we can maintain our menu prices, and of course every restaurant owner is hesitant to increase menu prices on their customers, but really it has to happen, and it has been happening and we’ll continue to see that in the future,” Brandt said.
He added, “we just have to make sure we’re sustaining our ability to be in business as these food costs go up and as wages go up over the year of 2023 and beyond.”
Going forward, Brandt says restaurants across the state need more staff and says ORLA is seeing business model changes such as restaurants operating counter service or limited full-service.
ORLA has been talking with lawmakers, including meeting with Governor Tina Kotek last week, about industry pressures, Brandt said, adding ORLA wants to see more law enforcement present to address public safety issues impacting the service industry — such as vandalism and break-ins.
“The governor is laser-like focused on her key pillars which include mental health recovery services, homelessness, affordable housing and, of course as an industry, all of those things matter to us, Brandt said.
“We continue to see a need for laser-like focus on public safety infrastructure and making sure that our communities across the state are places we want to live, work, play and shop. So, hospitality is really on the frontlines of any public safety issues that might be experienced in these local economies,” Brandt said.
Brandt says ORLA wants to be part of “increasing the capacity at the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training,” an agency that provides law enforcement training before they can hit the streets.
“So, in the case of the Portland Police Bureau, for example, they’ve been doing a great job making strides in hiring new police officers, but many of these police officers are stuck doing office work and we’re not able to experience their level of service and their providing of law enforcement services…and they have to go through that state academy process,” Brandt explained.
“The governor and I talked a little bit about the importance of expanding capacity and bandwidth within the statewide academy, so that we can get out law enforcement personnel out on the streets where the community needs to see them.”
Brandt says he wants all levels of crime to receive accountability and timeliness.
“With the lack of law enforcement on the streets, our need to kind of increase our capacity in that space, you would imagine that there is a true focus on the major crimes, right? And trying to make sure that the biggest crimes are dealt with the most expediently. And we’re trying to make the case the minor crimes, such as the broken windows or the minor vandalism cases, are just as important and need just as much accountability,” Brandt said.
He furthered, “we can’t really overstate the necessity of a sense of urgency within all of our local government partnerships so that our communities and our small businesses can experience the level of service they need when issues do arise on premises.”
However, Brandt told KOIN 6 News last week he also believes there are brighter days ahead because entrepreneurs are still opening restaurants.
“As long as we can continue to keep our eye on the prize and focus on these areas that could take us off track and result in more lost business, we’re gonna have more and more consumer demand over the next decade,” he said.