Hawaii restaurants deal with staffing, supply, capacity issues ahead of holiday season

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — During the summer 2021 season on Oahu, long lines were seen outside restaurants, and wait times were well over an hour.

“Part of it was because we had reduced hours because it was hard to get staffing. We still had the plus-up that hadn’t lapsed yet. We had then and still do have terrible supply chain issues and costs going up; meanwhile, the numbers of guests coming back to the islands were just increasing like crazy,” explained Greg Maples, Hawaii Restaurant Association chairman.

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“We saw this kind of this special storm that hit, and if you didn’t have a reservation in some of your favorite places, you weren’t getting in or you’re waiting for two or three hours to get in.”

Greg Maples, Hawaii Restaurant Association chairman

He said restaurant sales dropped 50% after Gov. David Ige asked visitors not to come during the delta surge, and as businesses head into the upcoming holiday season, most of the problems from summer are still not resolved.

“We’re still struggling with staffing issues because there’s just not enough people here who want to work and especially in our industry,” Maples added.

He said lack of workers and lower sales on top of higher shipping costs have resulted in businesses being closed on any given day. Maples noted that many restaurants also switched to takeout when COVID vaccine requirements went into effect on Maui and Oahu.

“If more people stay at takeout, that means there’s going to be fewer seats to sit inside of restaurants,” Maples said.

The state anticipates anywhere between 35 to 40-thousand and more arrivals daily this 2021 holiday season, and restaurants continue to remain capped at 50%.

“If things are going to get back to normal, — we want normal, we want to be able to put all of our tables back at 100% capacity and if we can’t get that to start out with, then we need at least give us three feet,” Maples said.

Kauai and Hawaii Island do not require proof of COVID vaccination to dine in. But in more tourist populated areas, like Poipu, it is still difficult to find dinner reservations.

“We recommend people to make reservations at least two to four weeks in advance,” explained Darin Tann general manager of Keoki’s Paradise on Kauai.

Tann said the restaurant tries to provide walk-ins but, sometimes, wait times can be over an hour. He explained there are fewer restaurants on the Garden Isle, which makes it harder to accommodate everyone. He also said it is even harder to find workers on Kauai too. 

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KHON2 asked if returning to 100% capacity by the holidays would be a good thing or a bad thing:

“For us, it’s really all about experience because if we sacrifice getting more guests in and sacrificing the experience, that’s not going to help us in the long run,” Tann added.

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