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Oregon restaurants, bars ask to stay open until midnight

The Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association wants to extend the curfew and increase seating.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Every night at 10 p.m. restaurants and bars in Oregon must have an empty dining room.

"Our last call is around 9, 9:30," said April Hersh, manager of River Pig Saloon. "We have to make sure, basically, everyone's gone by 9:50 just to be safe and it's hard when we are completely full at night and that's when people start coming out, but they don't get that much time in here."

River Pig Saloon's owner, Ramzy Hattar, said some patrons think that it's a restaurant rule, not the state's COVID-19 guideline.

"People don't understand the rules. They think that we're doing it ourselves. Like we're enforcing these ourselves," Hattar said. "That's the toughest thing, managing the customers and people that don't understand or care about the rules."

According to Oregon's COVID-19 guidelines, eating establishments must "end all on-site consumption of food and drinks, including alcoholic beverages by 10 p.m."

Prior to the pandemic, closing time was 2 a.m.

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"Revenue-wise we're down about 57%," Hattar said. "I just hope that we can maintain that and stay at that level. It gets down any lower than that and we have to rethink how we manage the hours and manage being open."

To help bring in more revenue, River Pig started serving brunch on Saturday and Sunday.

"We got to make a lot of changes just to try to stay afloat. The late night was very crucial, that was probably our biggest time," Hattar said.

To help restaurants and bars survive, the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association (ORLA), which represents around 1,800 restaurants across the state, is asking Gov. Kate Brown to push back the curfew from 10 p.m. to midnight. River Pig Saloon is not a member of ORLA.

"We've figured out how to do this," said Jason Brandt, president and CEO of ORLA, citing the minimal outbreaks associated with dining establishments. "It's not fool proof by any stretch, but when you're going through the process of risk assessments, our industry, week in and week out, is proving that we're a safe environment to help mitigate the spread if you are gathering with other people."

Brandt said the 12 a.m. curfew wouldn't save restaurants, but help those that are struggling bring in more revenue. 

"Going to midnight is just another tool in the toolkit in the restaurants," he said. "It allows operators to turn tables one more time when they're doing it with limited seating."

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There is a limited capacity for indoor dining. The state says that only 100 people can be inside a restaurant at any time and that includes staff. Brandt is also asking for the larger venues that can seat more people safely to be able to expand that capacity.

"The extra two hours inside would be huge help revenue-wise. For now, we're just taking it day by day and trying to make it work," Hattar said.

KGW News sent an email sent late Monday to Gov. Brown's office asking if this is a proposal she has been made aware of or considered. On Tuesday, Brown's press secretary Liz Merah said the governor was aware of the request but she is not considering changing guidance for restaurants at this time, due to "the incredibly concerning recent growth in the spread of COVID-19."