Many service businesses, including restaurants and hotels, struggled during the pandemic. As the industry returns after the pandemic, it faces record-high inflation, a lack of workers, and in some cases, crime.
The Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association says that since COVID started, 2,000 of the state’s 10,000 restaurants have closed, but more than 1,200 have 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 that the restaurant and hotel industries are unstable because of rising food, drinks, and food service equipment prices.
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The CEO of ORLA noted that this makes it hard for businesses with low-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.”
Brandt says that restaurants all over the state will need more staff in the future. He also says that the ORLA is seeing changes in business models, such as restaurants that offer counter service or limited full service.
ORLA has been talking to lawmakers about industry pressures and even met with Governor Tina Kotek last week, Brandt said. ORLA also wants to see more law enforcement on the scene to deal with things like vandalism and break-ins that affect public safety and affect the service industry.
“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…
“They have to go through that process at the state academy,” Brandt said.
“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 crimes, no matter how big or small, to be taken seriously and dealt with quickly.