HONOLULU (KHON2) — Restaurants on Oahu will soon be able to regain extra outdoor space for dining. It was an idea that started during the pandemic and is now coming back as a pilot program with the goal of providing an economic boost to businesses. 

A program to allow restaurants to expand their seating was ushered in during the height of the pandemic, but the program ended when COVID-19 emergency orders expired. The program was so popular that restaurants wanted the City to bring it back, and the City answered. 

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The Hawaii Restaurant Association President Sheryl Matsuoka said the City will test the sidewalk dining program for restaurants during a two-year pilot program

“This is a two-year pilot program the restaurants have to apply every six months,” Matsuoka said. “There is a permit fee and then they have to submit all their drawings and they have to work with the liquor commission and the Department of [Planning] and Permitting.”

The Surfing Pig was the first restaurant to get its sidewalk seating approved during the pandemic. The restaurant’s general manager Ray Kelsall said they plan on being among the first to apply for the pilot, as customers still ask for the outdoor tables. 

“Throughout this entire time since the permits expired, we’re still getting multiple calls a week of people trying to reserve the outdoor seating that we are unable to do at the moment,” Kelsall said.

Kelsall said they could seat an additional four to six people. Meanwhile, Shorefyre in Waikiki is also part of the restaurants planning to participate in the pilot program. Shorefyre’s Assistant General Manager Alex Robinson said the sidewalk seating expands their dining area by about 10%.

“We’re actually just going to remove this fence,” Robinson said. “It’s a temporary hedge and then we’ll be able to put four high-top tables that can accommodate eight people.”

Several restaurant owners said they want the pilot program to become a permanent option for restaurants.

Matsuoka said the HRA also supports continuing the pilot beyond its two years, adding that it will be up to participating restaurants to comply with the program’s guidelines and stay in good standing. 

“They’ll be out there visiting to be sure all of the easements where wheelchair accessibility, pedestrian accessibility are possible,” Matsuoka said.

At least 36 inches of the sidewalk should remain unblocked, and restaurants will be responsible for storing the furniture out of City property once it closes.

A permit application for six months will cost restaurants $50, and many are happy to pay up. 

“It gave an alternative for people who didn’t quite feel comfortable dining indoors,” Kelsall said.

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The City will begin accepting applications on Monday, Oct. 10.