Far-Reach Problems Rock Iconic Hawaii Restaurants And Visitors

Wide-Ranging Problems Rock Iconic Hawaii Restaurants & Visitors

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?

Leave a Comment

Comment policy:
* No profanity, rudeness, personal attacks, or bullying.
* Hawaii focused only. General comments won't be published.
* No links or UPPER CASE text. English please.
* No duplicate posts or using multiple names.
* Use a real first name, last initial.
* Comments edited/published/responded to at our discretion.
* Beat of Hawaii has no relationship with our commentors.
* 750 character limit.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

37 thoughts on “Wide-Ranging Problems Rock Iconic Hawaii Restaurants & Visitors”

  1. Always love Hawaii. How about island restaurants offering vacationers help while visiting, discount on food, joint partnership discount with hotels. Stay 7 days, work 4 part-time days or work 2 fulltime days. Cruise ships do it… Just saying.. Get temporary help in to give regular employees off time to avoid overtime, staff key lots use vacationers on meanial slots. Wait staff to paramedics let’s do it.

  2. Aloha, not only an island problem, but the mainland too. For years many of the troubles mentioned here from violating laws to finding good help have become problematic. The market has turned from “employer market” to “employees market” and some big businesses have yet to catch on. Inflation, the uh, thing thay happened 2 years ago and supply shortages have driven consumer costs up enough where many believe it is better to remain unemployed, low employed or simply working under the table. Taxes climb, insurance climbs, commuting costs have skyrocketed and the employer must meet the needs of employees by raising prices to pay for good help. Sadly, this domino effect won’t go away soon. The 70s took 5 years to recover from. Mahalo

  3. The one thing we noticed on our trip this month was the increase in prices at restaurants. We stay at our timeshare so we usually only eat out in the evening, and consider carefully when we order. We didn’t have the problems getting reservations as we did last year, but some of our favorites are sadly gone.

  4. We are currently on Kauai and understand everything you are saying. We check a restaurant in person day of before going. They often don’t have time to update Facebook or web site. We have found mostly reasonable wait times, and many very hard working wait staff and hosts. You just need to be flexible and patient. Mahalo for your advice.

    1. Spot on. Please be patient and don’t take it out on staff. The ones that are working deserve our support and generosity.

    1. I think that’s only part of the problem. I also think people had time to think about their lives during the pandemic, and moved on to other jobs. Working in the service industry can be rough, especially when dealing with selfish and irate customers at times.


  5. Aloha!
    I was on the Big Island last week. I made reservations at Browns Beach House through Open Table. They have the same $50 per person cancellation fee if cancelled within several hours of the reservation and required a credit card. Also, I received way more email and text reminders than normal. The restaurant seemed to be adequately staffed but I observed that they were being very careful about seating people only at their reservation times and I’m sure there were no walk-ins allowed! We also ate at Pueos Osteria up in Waikoloa Village. They did not require a credit card but we did get several text reminders prior to the reservation. Our reservation was at 5:30 and we arrived early. The restaurant opens at 5 and it was already packed.

  6. This is just sad what covid restrictions, etc has done to Hawaii. I’m afraid that this country will never be the same. Why can’t people go back to working?

  7. Love the macaroni grill $2 fee. We did that so we didn’t have to raise prices lol. That’s like buying a car and adding in a inflation fee of 5k and saying you are paying msrp. Actually they do that lol nitro in tires really?

    1. You forgot the Mandatory tire inflation monitoring systems now. Tire shops have to have special equipment to manipulate them.

  8. Mahalo Beat of Hawaii for your always fantastic insights!
    I felt compelled to share my experience with Kimos on Maui. My Ohana had come to visit and we made reservations for dinner on Open Table, at 7pm. Arrived early and checked in. We waited as others walked right in without a reservation. At 7:45 they had a table, told me that since Open Table gets a cut they don’t like guests using it. We all felt punished.The service was good, food mediocre. It was embarrassing to feel unwanted and a lesser customer.

    1. Hi Pam.

      Thanks for your input on Maui restaurants. Interesting about Open Table, and in fact we had a look at how much they charge just this week. If a restaurant doesn’t like it, they sure don’t need to be there. In any event, a group of us are heading out tonight and we remain hopeful that it will yield a good report.

      Have a good weekend!


  9. Thanks for the great info. Coming in 2 weeks and can’t wait. We love Hawaii. It’s been to long! I feel for all these places struggling to get back to the “norm”. We live in Arizona and it’s the same here. Everything is open but staffing is terrible. People just need to realize you are there for a good time. Enjoy each other and be patient. Looking forward to it! Love reading your website and always enjoy news about one of the most beautiful places!

    1. Hi Doreen.

      Thanks for those nice words and for your comments. Yes, it’s interesting to hear how things are working in AZ and other places.


Scroll to Top