Hawaii restaurants are busier than ever. At the same time, they are facing more issues than you can shake a stick at. We already know about employee shortages resulting in cutbacks in hours. But that’s just the beginning.
Challenges impacting restaurant costs and customer prices are enormous in what is fast becoming a price-beware Hawaii restaurant market. And this may all be the tip of the iceberg in restaurant problems that include locations across all of the islands.
The exemplary Guy Fieri featured Hawaii eatery closed this summer due to these very issues.
You’ll remember that this summer, the highly regarded Dean’s Drive Inn in Kaneohe went out of business. After 16 successful years, the owners said that out-of-control price increases were the primary cause and the inability to staff the restaurant adequately. Even before they could go out of business, they ran out of food and had to close prematurely.
Trouble at famed Tahiti Nui Kauai shows how one restaurant addressed staff shortages.
The still hugely popular family-owned restaurant and bar on Kauai opened in 1963 and gained new fame when it was featured in the movie The Descendants more than a decade ago. Now they are faced with a $26,000 child labor fine. That is in addition to back wages employees were due for working overtime, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The government report stated that Tahiti Nui permitted eight minor employees aged 15+ to work hazardous duties associated with cooking and baking. Teenage employees also worked beyond federal limits. In addition, 18 of the restaurant’s staff were owed overtime for working more than 40 hours per week. These were violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Class-action lawsuit strikes Romano’s Macaroni Grill’s “inflation fee.”
In an unusual class-action lawsuit, Romano’s Macaroni Grill is being sued over its $2.00 “inflation fee.” We hadn’t seen this before, which it’s a novel albeit unethical approach to dealing with the inflation that is hitting Hawaii restaurants. It just backfired on them.
The class action suit states that the inflation fee was not disclosed on the menu, by servers, or in other ways. The only way consumers encountered the charge was when it was listed as a line item on their receipt. The restaurant chain said it was doing this to avoid raising prices. The lawsuit, however, claims that it is both deceptive and unfair.
9 Bar in Honolulu eliminated most food offerings to deal with costs.
The Kaakaako coffee shop we’ve enjoyed for years said some of the products they used in food items tripled in price, especially protein items. They now offer only things that can be priced more reasonably. When you visit 9 Bar, much of the food is gone, but their coffee still brews.
A federal investigation of D.K. Restaurants recovered $118K in misappropriated employees’ tips.
According to the USDOL Wage and Hour Division investigation, seventy restaurant workers were forced to share their tips with managers. That occurred at the D.K. Restaurant Group locations that include Sansei Seafood Restaurants and D.K. Steak House, located in Honolulu, Kapalua and Kihei, Maui, and Waikoloa on the Big Island.
It was reported that the chain had reduced its management salaries by 25 percent and then took employees’ tips to supplement those managers’ salaries. That was a violation of Fair Labor Standards. A fine of $8,600 was also levied against D.K.
Hawaii restaurants continue to be seriously short-staffed, and you should take note.
Restaurants and coffee shops continue to change hours abruptly. Keep that in mind before heading out. Sometimes restaurants will close on certain days of the week or might eliminate lunch, for example. We encountered that just this week when a Big Island restaurant we intended to go to and is usually open on Monday, put up a sign that they were sorry for the inconvenience – they would not be opening.
Long lines and empty tables don’t mean what you think.
Empty tables don’t mean a lack of customers, but often that there isn’t the staffing to support the entire restaurant being opened. And long lines are confusing too. We recently encountered 90-minute waits at Keoki’s Paradise at Poipu Beach, caused by inadequate staff to serve the people who were already eating. Getting drinks, food, table clearing, or a check was nearly impossible.
Suggestions for visitors regarding restaurants in Hawaii.
1. Check the restaurant’s website just before visiting for any updates.
2. Look for current information on daily closures or reduced hours on a restaurant’s Facebook page. If we had done that, we would have seen that our favorite coffee bar, Dark Horse in Koloa, had suddenly reduced their hours to morning only. Instead, we went for a meeting there at 1 pm and were surprised by a closed sign. Since then, the coffee bar has resumed its regular business hours.
3. Reserve early on Open Table, Yelp, or directly on the restaurant website. Note that many restaurants now require a credit card to reserve and have a cancellation policy and fee for no-shows. We say it’s working from personal experience. Last week when we made a reservation at Canoe House on Big Island, we considered canceling a few hours before, only to realize there would be a $100 penalty for doing so. Ultimately, we made the reservation fit into our schedule and did have a great time.
What are you finding at Hawaii restaurants in this new era?