Hawaii Restaurants: Capacity, Staffing, Security Struggles + Death of Roy’s-Trained Chef

Restaurants in Hawaii are facing unprecedented times, and the issues are at so many levels.

Starting earlier this month, Hawaii implemented new vaccination passport requirements for restaurants on Maui and in Honolulu. That is creating unanticipated problems at a time when restaurants are already struggling in a multitude of ways. Those include inadequate and demoralized staffing, reduction in capacity limits, and more.

Vaccination passport rules are now in effect on Maui and Oahu.

Earlier this month, rules went into effect on two islands. For those who are vaccinated, the ability to frequent restaurants is unaffected. For those unvaccinated, however, it presents a difficult situation.

1. In Honolulu, under the new Safe Access Oahu rules, diners must provide proof of vaccination or negative testing to enter.

2. On Maui, the rules, called Maui Safer Outside, require that customers provide evidence of vaccination to be admitted indoors. Outdoor dining only is permitted without such proof.

Hawaii restaurants find that customers aren’t always happy to comply with the new rules, and restaurant staff is stretched to the limit. Restaurant employees never envisioned themselves as security enforcers, and restauranteurs can ill afford any further problems at this point. Some restaurants are hiring security to help manage the situation, and at times police have also been summoned, and citations have been issued.

When customers do not comply with new rules, the onus falls on the restaurant, and they could face serious consequences, including $5,000 fines or jail. Restaurants must follow the rules; they don’t make them.

Many employees never returned to Hawaii restaurants.

Hawaii restaurants are still struggling to find employees for a variety of reasons. Those include government and employer vaccination or testing mandates, as well as a significant number who decided not to return to the industry after being unemployed during COVID.

Hawaii restaurant capacity is set at 50% for now.

Hawaii restaurants operate at a maximum of 50% capacity, while no “mingling” is permitted in bars. “Patrons in restaurants, bars, establishments must remain seated with parties maintaining six feet of distance.” — Governor Ige.

Eating out for lunch? Maybe not.

We have noticed that many restaurants are no longer keeping their normal hours. Be sure to check to be sure your favorite venue is still serving lunch.

Restaurants hit by COVID include the latest death of a Roy Yamaguchi-trained chef.

We were sad to learn this week of the death of the Westin Maui’s talented executive chef, Chris Lederer. The Roy’s (Roy Yamaguchi) trained talented chef was a rising star in Hawaii restaurants. His fiancee, to whom he was scheduled to be married next year, said that Chris was unvaccinated. A Go Fund Me has been set up to help pay for his memorial.

Are your Hawaii restaurant plans changing? 

As for your editors, we are both still eating out far less than before. When we do eat out, we are often choosing take-out instead of in-restaurant dining.

61 thoughts on “Hawaii Restaurants: Capacity, Staffing, Security Struggles + Death of Roy’s-Trained Chef”

  1. My daughter and I just spent 7 wonderful days on Maui. Thanks to information on BOH, we (both fully vaccinated & also tested just to be sure) registered and received pre clearance from the State and had excellent direction from United in SFO to obtain wristbands that allowed us to exit Kahalui without stopping. Car rental through Costco/Avis was at a normal price (again thanks to BOH for recommending checking and rebooking shortly before departure) and the Avis app made it easy to choose our car and go without waiting in a line. We stayed in a short-term condo rental on Sugar Beach. It was pricey, but given that airfares are low (we actually used miles and ended up paying nothing) and that car rental was normal price, we felt it all evened out in the end. Having 2 bedrooms/2 bathrooms, a full kitchen, a lanai with a perfect ocean view, a beach 50 feet away and free parking made it far, far less expensive than a hotel room or two. Since we’ve been to the Island many times before, we stayed low key and mostly enjoyed the beach, and either cooked for ourselves or did takeout from small local restaurants. Everyone we did interact with, be it at a restaurant, a shop or with other travelers, was respectful, friendly and helpful. We were, too, so perhaps that’s the magic key? We didn’t witness any issues with mask wearing or producing vaccine cards anywhere we went. If planning your first trip and/or planning to do all the things and eat at all the restaurants, maybe this isn’t the best time to go for the pre-pandemic experience. However, if you simply want to relax, and have no problem putting on a mask or showing your vaccine card or following the rules and being respectful, then consider keeping your plans intact.

    1. Hi Nancy.

      Thanks. We appreciate your trip report and are happy to hear your Maui vacation was great.


  2. Was in Kauai last week, had proof of vaccination, made reservations at an inexpensive restaurant and followed the rules. No problems dinner was excellent, service slow but good considering we only saw 1 service person. Thank you Tiki Iniki.

  3. So on Mauai and Ohau you have to show proof of vaccine or test to eat, but to cook my food you don’t have to be vaccinated?
    We seldom eat out, but have (vaccinated) family visiting, so we’ve been to restaurants. Always outdoors. Still concerning times.
    Thank you for your local perspective.

  4. Sad news, but thanks for the update! All this confirms that I made the right decision when I canceled our trip to Maui next month. We were booked at the Westin Maui and would have been heavily reliant on restaurants for all our meals. (So, sad about their chef too!) Normally, dining out at all the lovely restaurants is part of the fun of vacation, but who wants to witness a fight over public health measures whilst trying to enjoy an expensive meal. I do not have a problem showing proof of vaccine, but it’s not my idea of a fun, relaxing vacation. I will return to Hawaii when things look more normal. Stay safe, everyone!

  5. As an often time visitor toy wife’s family in Kailua on this trip the restaurants we have visited are requiring vacation record, photo ID and the address we are staying at in Honolulu County.

  6. Heading back over to mainland today after three great weeks on island. As I have commented before, the restaurant capacity limits and staff shortages need to be navigated, but we went out nearly every night if not hosting neighbors, and it works out.. just need extra patience and vigilance. The “no mingling” and “keep groups apart” rules are not always enforced. For example, if you manage to get a bar seat, and friends show up later, then “they came in with us” The capacity limit is based on the fire department limit, usually posted near the door. The mask theater is no big deal. Put it on when you stand, take off when you sit. Same as it ever was.

  7. Aloha! We live on O’ahu. While I am in favor of vaccination, others in my family are not. Gettimg a COVID test in island is difficult and getting it returned in time to go to an establishment is almost impossible.

    As such, we as a group cannot go to the movies, restaurants, gyms and more. While this is an inconvenience it has saved us some money to say the least. It sucks but these are first world problems. The folks I know who work at a nearby gym say the number of people is down significantly. One guy claims 50% and the other 90%. (Mind you, these are just people estimating.)

    I would be curious as to what the actual data is on these establishments across the islands.

  8. 50% my ?. We were just there and every restaurant we went to on 3 islands were packed. Ain’t no 50% happening in Hawaii. Just sayin’.
    Also I need to say this. I tipped really well while there tryingto help out the servers. Like really good. 40% at few places. A couple of tge tabs were almost $200.00 for two people.. I paid and handed the servers the little receipt holder to make certain they got the cash. Not one of them, 12 to be exact thanked me… so I don’t think people should be feeling that sorry for them. At all.

    1. Unfortunately, you didn’t read Justin’s post all the way through. He said that the gyms were only 50% full. He said nothing about restaurants.

    2. You are wrong. It is happening, perhaps not where you went but it is happening. I have been to several restaurants since the new rules went into effect on Sept 13, and all were 50%. In many cases establishments removed tables, so perhaps not visible to someone who doesn’t frequent the restaurant. And yes, some places will break the law and and serve more than 50% capacity, then be closed down for the violation. One I know of here already. My husband, son and step-daughter all work in restaurants on Oahu, all they are in are 50%.

  9. I just got back from Honolulu last Friday. The new Covid vax card protocols went into effect while I was there. From my dining experiences there, in Kalakaua Ave restaurants, North Shore eateries and other places we ate in Hawaii Kai , it really wasn’t such a big deal. We showed our ID, showed our vax card and filled out a small contact tracing chit. That was it. I never saw any conflicts or tensions between employees and restaurant guests. That’s not to say it didn’t happen, but we never saw that during our entire stay.

    It’s too bad that the chef decided not to get vaccinated, and he (and his fiancé) paid the price. How many more examples do folks need to see of anti-vaxxers dying of Covid before they get that this is real?

    In closing, I am so glad we made the journey to Hawaii after all. It was an amazing trip. We supported local businesses. We were respectful visitors and conducted ourselves accordingly. It was hard to get on the plane headed back to the mainland.

    Aloha Hawaii and Mahalo!🤙🏽


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