Honolulu Restaurants are Reopening Today. What Should You Expect When Dining In?
Face masks, gloves, clear acrylic barriers and outdoor tables.
Photo courtesy of Yanagi Sushi
Restaurants are reopening for dine-in service today. What will it look like? For some cities that have already reopened around the world, the picture looks dystopian, as in a woman drinking an espresso under a face shield in Rome, or just another outdoor brunch in Cincinnati. Honolulu’s emergency order requires that restaurants space tables 6 feet apart, diners must wear masks unless seated at the table, front-of-house staff must wear masks during their entire shift, and parties can’t exceed 10. Live entertainment is verboten. And so is self-serve wine and beer, which means at places like Island Vintage Wine Bar, all those 40 self-serve wine dispensers will be off limits. There are a lot more rules and guidelines and some restaurants are going even beyond them: Yanagi Sushi installed clear acrylic at the sushi bar between the sushi chefs and diners and will offer additional shields to place between diners at the sushi bar in addition to 6 feet of separation. At Café Kaila, all front-of-house staff will also wear face shields. Helena’s Hawaiian Food, which was closed completely since mid-March, plans on reopening Tuesday, June 9, with an online ordering system, to reduce the handling of menus.
You’ll also see more outdoor dining, thanks to a new pilot sidewalk/outdoor dining privilege in the emergency order. Fête is planning on putting two tables of four in front of the restaurant on Hotel Street. When I catch up with Fête’s co-owner, Chuck Bussler, he’s out buying lei at Cindy’s Lei & Flower Shop for his staff to celebrate the reopening. Or is it a re-reopening? Like many other restaurateurs, in the past two months, he closed Fête completely, then reopened a month later for takeout, and now is reopening the dining room. I tell him I don’t know what the proper response is: Congratulations? Good luck? Probably both.
SEE ALSO: Here’s Why Some Hawai‘i Restaurants Decided to Reopen
“It’s a big bag of mixed emotions,” he says. “I’m excited to get going again as a restaurant. I’m nervous to get going again as a restaurant. We’re clearly dealing with a lot of things. We gotta make sure that our staff is taken care of, make sure they’re safe, make sure the guests are safe. And dealing with the economics of everything—how do we keep the restaurant going with all this? I’m worried about the future and I’m hopeful about the future at the same time.”
The state guidelines recommend restaurants take reservations, but it’s not required. Bussler says for this weekend, so far the reservations look good. Yanagi is about 75% booked for Friday and Saturday. And for some restaurants such as Koko Head Café, reservations are being accepted for the first time ever, which means you can finally eat at Koko Head Café without waiting in line. While many neighborhoods in Honolulu look like they’re returning to pre-coronvirus traffic, the streets in Waikīkī are still relatively quiet. So if you have trouble getting a reservation in town, try Waikīkī, where many restaurants are offering free parking and promotions, like a free locally-made fabric mask at Island Vintage’s café and wine bar with a $50 purchase.
But while many restaurants are letting diners in this week, there are still many others adopting a wait-and-see approach, such as MW, which plans on reopening for dine-in service in mid-July at the earliest. Staring into the great unknown on the eve of Fête’s reopening, Bussler says: “We’re excited. Like everybody, we’re a little nervous, for many different reasons. Please vote for your favorite restaurants whether it’s dining in or takeout. It will matter for a long time.”
For more details on other restaurant reopenings, see frolichawaii.com
Read more stories by Martha Cheng