Pricey Plates: Restaurant Costs Send Hawaii Visitors Elsewhere

Pricey Plates: Restaurant Costs Send Hawaii Visitors Elsewhere

When we had a look at the most recent US Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index, we understood better why so many visitors are complaining about restaurant prices in Hawaii being too high.

Escalating costs at Hawaii restaurants and grocery stores yield unwelcome sticker shock again, leaving many of us here and visitors bewildered by another sudden surge in food costs.

Who loses the most: Hawaii restaurant diners.

This comes as restaurants pass on a plethora of fast-growing costs, including food products, shipping, and labor. Overall, prices for food at restaurants (away from home) rose 8.5% in one year. In the past two months, while non-alcoholic beverages rose by 4.3% (25% annualized), it is comforting to know that the cost of alcoholic beverages declined by .9% (-5.4% annualized).

Who is impacted the least: Those eating at home and in Hawaii vacation rentals.

Too high Hawaii restaurant prices are noted in countless comments that far exceed those complaining about Hawaii grocery store costs. Nonetheless, food prices in grocery stores continue to escalate. The CPI report commented that “Prices for food at home rose 0.5 percent, influenced by higher prices for nonalcoholic beverages and beverage materials (4.3 percent) and other food at home (2.4 percent).”

Restaurant owners, frequently small business people, find continuing to operate challenging due to mounting costs. As a result, there continues to be a high number of restaurant closures.

Hawaii Restaurants are evolving. One of the primary responses is restaurants transitioning to a less service-intensive model. That includes food trucks, take-out, or waiter-less alternatives.

And while Hawaii food trucks have existed for decades, we have noted many more of them recently, especially on Oahu and in Waikiki. Their far lower expenses and more limited operations, including no service and no dish washing components, help them navigate business challenges more easily.

BOH editors will tour the alternative food scene including Honolulu food trucks in March and report back on what’s happening.

Far-Reach Problems Rock Iconic Hawaii Restaurants And Visitors

Hawaii restaurant challenges.

Hawaii’s otherwise vibrant restaurant scene is challenged amid these extreme issues. While we await the winners following five Honolulu restaurants being named James Beard Award semi-finalists, other notable restaurants have just shuttered.

There is a stark disparity between those that are thriving and those that are not. Even esteemed restaurants find themselves grappling with insurmountable hurdles, including higher costs associated with running a restaurant, tourism spending related challenges, and profound operational setbacks. A lack of restaurant personnel exacerbates the situation significantly.

Despite the challenges we diners face related to escalating costs, the most impactful thing we can do to ensure the success of family-owned restaurants in Hawaii is to dine out and support their hard work. And that includes tipping restaurant staff well.

We wrote about fifteen Hawaii restaurants that closed recently.

Have you noticed the increases in Hawaii food costs, eating in and out, and what are you doing about it?


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32 thoughts on “Pricey Plates: Restaurant Costs Send Hawaii Visitors Elsewhere”

  1. Hawaii unfortunately is becoming a haven for the rich. To live in Hawaii comfortably you need to make at least 80K a year. At least 70% of the population only makes 30 to 50K a year and thst’s just to survive. Working 2 to 3 jobs and still living pay check to pay check just isn’t appealing at all. That’s why in the last 10 years or so there’s been such an exodus of locals to the mainland and to other countries that offer a more affordable lifestyle. Hawaii government really needs to brainstorm ways to diversify the economy. Affordable housing is a huge problem too. Who can afford a million dollar home? Not the majority of local folks. I had to leave Hawaii because retiring in Hawaii was impossible for me. Ahuihou!!

  2. As a western Canadian, Hawaii was our
    go to winter vacation spot for many years. But it has now priced itself out of the market for many people. Hotels, restaurants, car rentals everything feels like gouging. Mexico, the Caribbean are much more affordable alternatives, and more welcoming with happy friendly staff.

  3. Hah, alcohol beverages are down. Perhaps to keep you drunk so you do not know what you are paying for other things 😉
    I am joking.
    Food prices are soaring everywhere due to inflation. It costs even more to ship the products to the Hawaiin islands since it is way out into the ocean. Makes sense to me.

    From The Article
    “Overall, prices for food at restaurants (away from home) rose 8.5% in one year. In the past two months, while non-alcoholic beverages rose by 4.3% (25% annualized), it is comforting to know that the cost of alcoholic beverages declined by .9% (-5.4% annualized).”

  4. More irritated by ridiculous parking fees in Lahania at Whaler’s Village $34 for 2hours…..beware folks, rip off!

    1. John M
      This might irritate you even more.

      Maui is thinking about implementing a time period during every day that locals only can park at beach parking lots.

      “Maui County is moving to implement a new parking asset management program called PARK MAUI. The program focuses on tackling various issues associated with the confluence of cars, visitors, and limited space that have long troubled the island. Officials recently announced a plan to introduce locals-only hours for parking at certain beach parks in Maui, and Kamaole Beach Park and Ulua Beach have been named so far.”

  5. Just got back from 2.5 weeks at Ilikai in Waikiki. Glad had full kitchen as ate out only 1 meal per day – too expensive. No way would go back if had to stay in hotel with no kitchen. After 15+ trips to Hawaii over the years, going to look at closer/cheaper options in Caribbean. Friends loved Dominican Republic. May go to Caribbean.

    1. Exactly Chuck L
      With Maui wanting to do away with short term rentals and the only option will be hotels. Not a good scenario.

  6. Locals should not have to suffer. Hawaii is like Disney to tourist pass the cost on to them
    I am sa California tourist bern to Hawaii 10 times
    It’s not about eating all the time have some fun too. But please do not destroy the Aloha feeling that only exists in Hawaii. My daughter is there now for 1st time and she said now I know what you and mom mean, It’s magic. Aloha,

  7. Everyone knows going to Hawaii is expensive and yes just like every other state food prices are extremely high. It takes alot more cost to get food to Hawaii and the employees need their tips to survive. Seems like alot of complaints on here. When on vacation you should expect to pay more for food and budget accordingly. Please don’t take it out on the staff they live there and pay high prices to.

    1. “Everyone knows going to Hawaii is expensive” and “When on vacation you should expect to pay more for food and budget accordingly.” is a a tiring quote. Individuals, like myself, that have worked since 1967 to earn a living, save money to enjoy a holiday, should not be stamped to be taken advantage of for greed. I hear you about your wages as a restaurant employee. Your anger should be directed to the corporate, and any higher ups . They are the ones charging way too much. Staff should not be penalized, they should be paid in accordance to food prices being charged to the public. We should not have to pay your salary and food prices!

      1. Mcdonalds is still cheap, if you don’twant to pay a lot for food …don’t blame the workers please. I expect to pay a lot for real restaurants there just as i do if i go to high-end places elsewhere such as s.f. and marin. I also expect to tip well for those working those tough jobs.

    2. Hawaii doesn’t have a monopoly on sun, sand, and beaches in the winter.

      Hawaii is simply pricing themselves out of future consideration. That is even before the stupid ideas of adding a tourist fee to visit and banning short term rentals because the state refuses to build enough housing.

      1. We only stay in short term rentals and only eat out occasionally. If we were forced into a hotel with no kitchen we would go somewhere else to vacation.

  8. We were in maui last month and the grocery prices were very high compared to last year. But our prices on the mainland have also gone way up and we have less Shipping costs so understandable. We did eat at food trucks but also supported restaurants. It seemed that some of the restaurants needed more employees is it because they are trying to keep costs down or because there is a shortage of workers. We were in west maui.

  9. Folks don’t have to go to the headline name restaurants. There are still plenty of places where you’re going get a good meal at a reasonable (post COVID) price. You just have to go where the locals go.

    Why pay $60 or more for prime rib in Waikiki for example when you can get a little adventurous and drive 15 min to Ray’s Cafe in Kalihi for some of the best prime rib on the island for a Much better price ~ $25.00, be getting an authentic experience and, more importantly, supporting a local mom and pop ? (Just be prepared to hunt for parking)!

    Best Regards

    1. We like the Pine Tree Cafe on the BI. The locals go there, not much on atmosphere but the food is pretty good, prices reasonable and portions are quite large. We sometimes split one meal between the two of us.

  10. Just returned home from Kauai. Stayed on Anini beach. Restaurant prices have become such a factor that we no longer even look at a rental that doesn’t include a full kitchen.

    1. Same here. We are currently on Kauai for the first time and the restaurant prices are a shock. We just got back from a brewery and it was $50 for 3 beers and an order of onion rings.

      We are staying in an Air BnB with a full kitchen and our first stop after getting the rental car was at Costco and then Safeway. We are eating in for most of our meals – at least breakfast and dinner.

      The other thing I found incredibly irritating and flat out rude is number of coffee shops / restaurants that show they are open on Google maps but then are closed when we arrive. There is simply no excuse for that and a restaurant that is closed when they say they are open will not get a second chance from us.

        1. If a restaurant has taken the time to post hours on Google they should be open those hours. If hours change – take the couple of minutes required to update the site.

          Besides – it isn’t just Google Maps. Plenty of places were closed when the hours on their front door said they are open. Got an excuse for that.

  11. Yeah, it’s bad enough when they tack on the “kitchen charge” and the “credit card surcharge” but then some of these joints include the excise tax and fees in their tip calculation!

    So it’s bad enough that you’re paying 4.712% excise tax but then some places try to get you to also tip 15-20% of the 4.712% by sneaking it into the sub-total.

    I always calculate the tip based solely on the cost of the food & drink Before the excise tax, surcharge and fees are added.

  12. We typically visit Oahu 2-3 times a year, and like elsewhere, already high restaurant prices are on the rise. Luckily, we’re not heavy eaters. We usually opt for places like Tamura’s, where we can pick up a few containers of poke and some beer or wine both saving money and avoiding the waits and crowds of Waikiki restaurants.

    As for food trucks, they’re not our preference. We fail to see the allure of paying a premium eating food served on paper plates while standing in a parking lot.

    Lastly, I’m perplexed by the popularity of shrimp trucks. Despite trying them a few times, mostly to accommodate friends’ preferences, I’ve found the shrimp to be overcooked, rubbery, and drowned in sauce. The appeal eludes me.

  13. I have only been to Hawaii- Oahu one time, that was last year. I am really excited to go back this year, but the food prices are scaring me away!

  14. “And that includes tipping restaurant staff well”. I would rather the restaurant bump their prices a bit and not put staff at “tip risk”. We just got back form Maui last month, and found many restaurants added “kitchen charges” of 4-8% on all tabs (not just larger groups) and then have the nerve to ask for 20, 25, or 30% tips! Please, just charge $22 for your hamburger instead of $20, and pay your staff properly!

    1. I politely inform the server that I will not be paying the “kitchen charge” fee or whatever they call it, unless I was aware of it before ordering my meal. You’re not obligated to pay for random charges being added to your meal prices. If by chance they demand it, I simply tell the server that the tip will be minus whatever that charge is

  15. We used to eat dinner at restaurants at least five times over our annual 2 1/2 week stays on Kauai, but this year we ate dinner out only three times because of the cost, and one of those was to share a pizza with another couple. We availed ourselves of the food trucks in Koloa, which are great by the way, but mostly ate in our condo. When you see Prime Rib for $83, Ahi for $51, filet mignon for $63, etc, not to mention a $4 fee you must pay on your way out for the restaurant manager who you never see, those hamburgers on the grill back at your condo look better and better.

    1. Our favorite restaurant on BI is Fish and Hog. Very good bbq and reasonable prices. Why go to the same same chain restaurants as on the mainland. Going to be high prices right out the door of a high priced resort.

    1. Could you do an article on food trucks and good local places to eat on Kauai? Especially near Kapaa area, not the North shore?

  16. We are currently on the Big Island. Will be here 10 weeks and have been here 3-1/2 weeks so far. Usually we eat out one meal a day. We would be doing the same this year but my husband had a sinus infection when we arrived. I made him go to Urgent Care when we arrived. He had a reaction to the antibiotic and, as a result, was having digestive issues. So, we have not been eating out much and it shows on my credit card bill. His diet was limited for a while, so our groceries bill weren’t high, either. Good news is he is feeling better and we will now see the impact of increased restaurant and grocery prices.

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