Crowded Maui restaurant asks customers for aloha after staff treated poorly

Local News

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Restaurants in the islands have been hit hard by the pandemic, but now restaurant owners are asking customers to stop yelling at their staff.

Coconut’s Fish Café has two locations in Kihei with about 100 employees. Owner Mike Phillips says that number is 10-15 short of what he needs to staff both restaurants.

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They’re now having to close their doors once, maybe even twice a week for the first time in 12 years of operation. Phillips says some staff members are working more than 100 hours per week to keep pace with the growing demand, and they need a break.

“We’re just going to close to save my employees or they’re not going to be here. If I don’t save them, they’re not going to be here,” Phillips said.

An increase in tourism, staffing shortages and supply chain backlogs have led to hourslong waits for a table.

“People are hangry, angry and hungry,” Hawaii Restaurant Association Executive Director Sheryl Matsuoka said.

Not only is the staff overworked, Phillips says he’s had to kick out a few customers who were berating employees for the long lines.

“We’ve posted on Facebook the other day ‘you guys have to start being kind to our employees when you come in here, because it’s not their fault that we don’t have enough food (and) that we don’t have enough staff. It’s not their fault that service times are taking longer,'” Phillips said.

Staffing shortages are common these days because of the pandemic, with a majority hitting the kitchen.

“At this point we don’t even want resumes if they just say ‘hey Sheryl, I don’t know how to make a resume, I don’t have time to make a resume, but I’m looking for a position in a restaurant,’ I’ll talk to them,” Matsuoka said.

Also making wait times worse are more no-shows on reservations.

“It’s so tight at the restaurants they’ll make more than one, and because they know at restaurants there are long lines if they can get two reservations at the same time slot, and then they forget to cancel the other one,” Matsuoka said.

While many argue wage hikes could attract employees back to work, Phillips says he’s paying an average of $25 per hour and still can’t find the help he needs.

“I know how expensive it is to live in Hawaii. I know how expensive it is to live in Maui. So I take care of my employees and always have,” he said.

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