Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said he will soon begin discussions about relaxing restrictions in several areas like restaurants and bars. The Hawaii Restaurant Association (HRA) says, changes need to be made soon or more businesses will be forced to close for good.
Honolulu has been stuck in tier two of the city’s four-tier system for months with bars unable to open and restaurants forced to operate at half capacity.
The mayor said, he plans to meet with the governor, the liquor commission and HRA in the coming weeks to begin analyzing how to loosen some restrictions.
“I want to move aggressively but also want to move in the spirit of public health,” Blangiardi said.
HRA Chairman Greg Maples hopes to see swift action.
“We’re at 50% capacity, we’d like to see it go to 75% capacity,” Maples said. “That number is really important because there’s a lot of small restaurants right now where the 50% puts them out of the dine-in business, so they only can do take-out.”
Maples also hopes maximum group sizes will increase.
“Right now it’s only five. And that’s a really odd number. It doesn’t really work well, for families,” Maples explained. “We would love to see 10 people at a table like it was before when Governor Ige first came out with the guidelines.”
Another thing that would boost sales for restaurants is extending the liquor cut-off time.
“The cut-off is at 10 o’clock,” Maples said. “It’s a little bit early. We’d love to see that go to midnight.”
Maples said, he will be asking for these adjustments but restaurants will continue to adhere to all safety protocols.
“We maintain our safety and sanitation, the social distancing the masks, we don’t expect any of that to go away,” Maples explained.
Chamber of Commerce Hawaii President Sherry Menor-McNamara said, bars have been hit extremely hard. She said, they should be allowed to open if they can make some adjustments.
She suggested allowing table seating only and possibly taking reservations to prevent people from congregating in large groups, which is one of the concerns surrounding bars.
“The best thing to do now to help save some of these small businesses is to revisit the tiered system and adjust it accordingly,” Menor-McNamara said.
According to Maples, more than 30% of restaurants have already closed due to the pandemic and 60% may be forced to shut down unless things change quickly.
Thomas Ray knows the struggle all too well. He is the co-owner of Square Barrels and the Heiho House, two Oahu restaurants.
“I went off payroll to make sure that our businesses could survive. And I had to get a job as a mortgage broker with Compass Home Loans,” Ray said. ” I know a lot of other restaurateurs that are really struggling. I called once of my friends, who’s also a restaurateur, to see if we could get together. He’s like, I’m washing dishes tonight. And then I’ll be bussing tomorrow. So it’s tough.”
Blangiardi plans to make changes based on several factors.
“Things will be modified and tailored to our ability to reach certain thresholds and vaccinations,” Blangiardi said.
Blangiardi did not say when any changes to restrictions would be made.