Hawaii Restaurants Closing

Hawaii Restaurants Are Struggling; 4 More Shutter Entirely

Will more Hawaii restaurants close, move to take-out only, or make other significant changes as problems worsen, and some restaurants simply decide to close down?

Four of Honolulu’s most recognized restaurants, and highly rated ones at that, have closed their doors with little notice. This comes as the Hawaii restaurant industry suffers from many issues, including high costs and a lack of ability to hire and retain staff. Of all these issues, the worst we are told is staff shortages.

The Hawaii restaurant industry remains primarily disrupted.

That comes following the pandemic, and the industry appears unable to recover. There are currently significant staff shortages at most restaurants.

Not only that, but some restaurants are seeking to provide housing for their employees to offset the untenable cost of living they face. Following Covid and the decrease in Hawaii travel, restaurants closed or reduced operating hours. Workers were initially laid off or chose to leave independently.

When Hawaii’s travel economy started recovering, and restaurants reopened, there was a skyrocketing demand for workers. Still, not enough people were qualified or wanted to return to restaurant positions.

While restaurant staffing shortages aren’t uncommon throughout the country,  it is greatly exacerbated in Hawaii because of the higher cost of living. Restaurant workers find it hard to make enough money in their positions to continue to afford to live in Hawaii.

While restaurants have sought to increase worker pay and benefits, that still hasn’t been enough. Many restaurants, cafes, and other establishments now operate on reduced hours, with fewer menu options and tables in use.

Technology, including self-service options and online ordering, is also being used to help restaurants operate with fewer staff. Restaurants are also trying innovative solutions like flexible hours and shorter and longer shift options. We just interewed one restaurant owner who said that it isn’t unusual to have staff work double shifts to make up for shortages. He said that the increased cost of overtime and in trying to hire, train and retain staffing presents a very challenging situation.

Zippy's Restaurant switches to take-out only

Zippy’s Restaurant tries a take-out-only model.

Could this be more of what the future will look like? The Zippy’s restaurant at the Koko Marina Shopping Center called it quits in terms of sit-down dining last week. They have transitioned entirely to being take-out. That is becoming commonplace, unfortunately.

The Hawaii Restaurant Association executive director said regarding Zippy’s, “the rent of that space and the revenue is what they’re looking at on the top of expenses, the employee shortage, and whether they have enough staff to provide excellent customer service.”

Four popular Honolulu restaurants closing suddenly.

Two closures already occurred this week. First was Piggy Smalls at Ward Center which closed after seven years. Their flagship Chinatown restaurant, The Pig & The Lady continues to operate. Next was Little Village Noodle House, a fixture in Chinatown for 22 successful years. Both will be missed.

Ruby Tuesday in Kapolei is scheduled to close on February 21 due to increasing costs and, even more so, unavailability of workers. Also closing  in Hawaii Kai is the Outback Steakhouse. They will serve their last meal on February 26.

While restaurant closures are becoming a regular occurrence, the number announced this week, is unpreceneted.

What we can do to stop more Hawaii restaurants from closing?

One thing is to support local restaurants and tip employees generously. The prior 15-20 percent tip guideline maybe now should be 20-25% given today’s world. What are your ideas?

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70 thoughts on “Hawaii Restaurants Are Struggling; 4 More Shutter Entirely”

  1. So bring on some mainland chains which are thriving everywhere and make some concessions that will draw them to the islands! For starters: in/out burgers, ihop or another applebees (west oahu(?)
    We just lost our only dennys’ @ windward city …(replaced by a mattress store????) and why?? Because it wasn’t always busy….Nooooooo!

  2. Tipping is at an absurd level – 20-25% for a tip? Please, why should the public be responsible for subsidizing a for-profit business that refuses to pay a living wage instead of a slave wage? Or give employees the minimum number of hours to avoid offering health benefits?
    Not to mention that as menu prices rise, so does the amount of the tip, even at 15-20%.

    The food service industry has had it good for decades by taking advantage of their labor force and their patrons, those days – and the obsolete business model that reinforces that mindset are over, that world no longer exists and any business that relies on paying crappy wages and having their labor subsidized by their customers will face the same fate and deservedly so.

  3. Since the pandemic I typically will tip 20 to 25%. On smaller less expensive locations I may tip more. When you look at the dollar amount between 20 or 25 it’s minimal but can add up for the servers.

  4. Personally, I think tipping is out of control, and asking me to tip more for worse service is unfair. Nobody can afford to increase tip rates. Tipping needs to go. These people should earn a guaranteed wage, and customers shouldn’t be asked to subsidize their pay if their bosses don’t want to pay a fair wage. Tipped employees no longer feel gratitude for a tip. They now Expect and Demand a tip, and they shame customers who don’t tip (whether they received good service or not.) I say that as someone who worked in the industry when young. I Never expected a tip. Now, it’s demanded by everyone–whether they work at a tipped wage or not!

  5. Easy, put an automatic 20% gratuity on the bill. You can add more for good service. Don’t return if continued bad service.

    1. A gratuity is meant to show gratitude. I am not going to a restaurant that demands gratitude for its employees before I receive the service. I don’t ask much, but I do expect friendly service and a good attitude. I am certainly not going somewhere that rewards poor service.

  6. Keeping restaurants from closing in Hawaii …. Simply put Restaurant owners first need to increase their wages and benefits of their workers by 25% and then raise their menu prices accordingly… We always tip but many foreign visitors dont tip at all.. you cant expect your customer to make up wage shortages- bad economic model but needed when half your customers dont tip because they will never come back again or their cultural practices dont allow it. Restaurants should initiate a policy of forced tipping at 20-22% to be added to the bill… Its this or the place closes down. This is 100% the result of government inflationary policies and continued inflation will unfortunately eventually close many more tourist related businesses…

    1. Mario everyone has said that Hawaii can survive just fine without tourists, closing down the restaurants, clothing stores, etc. Would be a great place to begin. Imagine endless days of Beach Fun, Tanning, Relaxing to the sounds of the ocean. Maybe it’s really going to happen! Don’t get too excited as I doubt that it will happen.

    2. As I said to someone else, a tip is in gratitude for good service. It is Not something I am going to pay on command. I don’t ask for much, and I tip starting at 20% and go up from there. But I’ll be darned if I am going to have anyone Demand a tip from me. I would just stop going to those places.

      Also, it’s 100% the fault of the local government. Wages in Hawaii are ridiculously low. We now live on the mainland, and hubby got a $65k per year raise for relocating–to a Much less expensive area! We only come to visit now. I miss it, but it’s not sensible to take a pay cut to live in an overpriced economy just to be in Hawaii. It’s harming every Hawaiian citizen who doesn’t have extreme wealth. And it’s why so many don’t want these jobs.

  7. I’m wondering how many chefs, line cooks and servers have Hawaiian food trucks siphoned off from brick and mortar restaurants?

    Just a short ten years ago there were few food trucks on the islands now they are everywhere serving mostly cheaper meals then traditional restaurants.

  8. The suggestion to give 20-25% in tips would be fine, if most of us were not struggling due to the high costs of living in Hawaii.


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