Hawaii restaurants hit hard by delta variant, COVID restrictions


HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Hawaii Restaurant Association (HRA) polled restaurant owners on the impact of the delta variant and found results were worse than expected.

The survey found that in September and October 2021, 80% of restaurants that were surveyed saw their revenue drop by 30% or more; 37% have lost over half of their revenue.

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HRA said 192 restaurant owners answered the two surveys in early September, and then again last week; they said many restaurants surveyed had more than one location.

“We have been under the hardest mandates of any state in the United States. And our restaurants are suffering multiple ways.”

Greg Maples, Hawaii Restaurant Association chair

On Wednesday, Oct. 27, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi gave many large indoor events the green light to resume beginning Wednesday, Nov. 3. However, restaurants, bars and gyms still have capacity restraints under state mandates.

“We are feeling much more confident that we can return to full capacity and still keep the ongoing public health crisis properly managed,” said Ryan Tanaka, Hawaii Restaurant Association’s incoming chair.

Restaurants said during peak tourism, at 50% capacity, wait times were sometimes overwhelming.

“Once the wait is 90 minutes, two hours, they don’t stick around — they got things to do,” explained Michael Skedeleski, Eggs ‘N’ Things Director of Operations.

Skedeleski said allowing tables to be spaced out three feet instead of six would help shorten wait times.

“People who’ve been walking away because the wait is over an hour, they would now be able to sit down,” Skedeleski added. “So, I would say, numbers-wise, we may get 40 to 50% more tables in, but sales would probably increase by at least 30%.”

The restaurant industry has also been losing staff. The survey found 19% of restaurants said they lost 30% of their workers. Restaurant owners said their employees moved to the mainland where businesses were open, and others did not want to get the COVID vaccine or take a weekly test, which is required under Safe Access Oahu.

“In my particular case, I had to furlough people again, and some of those people don’t want to come back to work. They found other things; they don’t have to be vaccinated to work in other industries,” Maples said.

Maples also noted that the purpose of Safe Access Oahu was to increase coronavirus vaccination rates; now that they are up, the restaurant industry should not have to suffer.

“Our government officials said when we got to 70%, all mandates would be dropped. OK, what happened? Why isn’t that happening?” Maples said. “Somebody should be saying, ‘you made that promise, and you’re not delivering that? Why aren’t we there?’ If we’re not going to drop all mandates, then you should give us a lot of leeways because we’ve worked really hard.”

According to Maples, restaurants worked hard to get employees vaccinated or partake in weekly testing.

“We have worked really hard to get our people on board and to do what’s right, but to continue to hold the vaccination piece over us. That’s a tough one to swallow,” Maples said.

The HRA wants capacity restraints to be lifted before the busy holiday rush. Maples said many restaurants would rather have a long wait due to staffing issues if they were at 100% capacity.

“It means I’m busy; it means my seats are full and that means that I’m making money or at least I’ve got cash flow coming,” Maples explained of struggling restaurants.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said the COVID risk at restaurants is low if people confirm they are vaccinated.

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“If people are vaccinated, I’m not worried. As long as people can confirm that they’re vaccinated at a restaurant, the risk is very low. They’re already out together and they’re in grocery stores within one foot of each other a lot of times and so on so forth, and we’re not even verifying vaccination in those settings. I don’t think there is extra risk here.”

Lt. Gov. Josh Green

“It’s important that people’s economic survival also be considered because that’s their well-being. I have heard a lot of people suffering and depression — all these things are relevant. So, we have to move as we go toward the holidays to just be smart about our science, and the science says it’s probably fine,” Green added.

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