HONOLULU (KHON2) — After a year of struggling during the pandemic, customers are making a comeback to restaurants. It is the relief many businesses have been waiting on.  

Good luck trying to find last minute reservations as restaurants are getting more crowded especially after the county loosened COVID-19 restrictions.

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Aoki Group’s President and CEO Kevin Aoki said people should make reservation in advance to dine at one of his restaurants. These include Doraku Sushi locations and 1938 Indochine.

Aoki said, “I would say at least three days, if they book it the day of, at my restaurant in Kakaako 1938, we’re not even taking day of reservations.”

Aoki’s Doraku locations have stayed open throughout the pandemic. He said expanding seating to 10 people and allowing alcohol to be served through mid-night have helped their sales.

He said they are also serving the customers from restaurants that did not make it.

“There are less restaurants than there were before,” Aoki said. “A lot of them closed down. There’s more diners than there are seats at restaurants at this point.”

Noi Thai’s General Manager Koi Ford said they are seeing upwards of 200 diners a night. They spaced out their tables six feet to follow CDC guidelines, but most of the tables will be filled come dinner time.

Ford said they have already turned down groups due to capacity.

Ford said, “If it’s a big group of people who cannot wait an hour, we have to say ‘Sorry. Please make reservations for the next day.'”

Meanwhile, Hawaii State Department of Health Spokesperson Brooks Baehr said dining outdoors remains safer than indoors when it comes to coronavirus transmission. He said masks should remain in place between meals even for those who are fully vaccinated.

“Remember we have already seen a couple of breakthrough cases in Hawaii,” Baehr said. “Cases where people who have been fully vaccinated still contracted COVID-19.”  

At least for some restaurant workers being eligible for a COVID vaccine is bringing them peace of mind.

Aoki said, “About 30% of our staff is vaccinated for the first shot right now. It’s really made a lot of our employees more comfortable coming to work.”