BACK TO THE TABLE -- A HAWAI‘I RESTAURANT SURVEY
The Third in a Series of Surveys on Hawai‘i Restaurant Survival
From UH Public Policy Center, December 21, 2020
The restaurant industry in Hawai’i is struggling under the weight of government restrictions put into place to fight the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a virtual halt in tourism the lifeblood of the industry has been cut, resulting in a five-fold increase in restaurants that are behind in paying their bills. If this trend is left unchecked, over half of Hawai’i’s restaurants project they will be forced to permanently close by April of 2021. Most concerningly 87% of restaurateurs believe that if their current restaurant fails that they would not be able to secure financing to start over. If these assessments come to pass, not only will a vibrant portion of our state’s culture be silenced, but those members of our community with the skill and experience to resurrect the restaurant industry in a post-COVID environment will be locked out of doing so due to lack of ability to gain capital to restart.
The restaurant industry’s assessment of government actions are as dire as their financial situation. As an example, the on-again-off-again restrictions and limits on in-person dining have created a unique circumstance where the restaurants that opened their doors to sit down customers have lost more money per-capita than those that opted for take-out only service, or never reopened at all. Additionally, across the state there is a strong perception that government contract tracing has proven singularly ineffective, with less than 4% of restaurants seeing tangible results of the contact tracing efforts they have been directed to undertake at their own time and expense. At the time of this survey, less than 1 in 12 restaurateurs across the state express “a lot” or “a great deal” of confidence in state and local government decision making on COVID-19 matters -- as compared to nearly 6 in 10 who express “little” to “no” confidence in state and local governmental response. By a sizable margin, however, restaurant owners and managers are not averse to taking additional safety procedures if these actions would lead to a loosening of restrictions. Furthermore, restaurant owners indicate far higher levels of confidence in local leadership to manage future COVID-19 restrictions than to have these decisions made at the state level.
There is a consensus among restaurateurs that a lack of communication, transparency, and planning by the government is to blame for the economic hardships they now face. Although the desire for the industry to work together with decision-makers exists, it is not being taken advantage of. The perspectives of individuals within the industry is incredibly valuable for the government officials who make the policies that impact the restaurant industry directly. Many restaurateurs have offered suggestions, including changes in testing procedures and other solutions to keep restaurants sanitary. They have also stressed the need for more financial support, both in terms of rent relief and other financial aid, as previous methods used were often helpful but still not enough, and even created more problems as debt increased. Overall, the sentiment remains that things need to change.
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KHON: Survey says more than half of Hawaii restaurants will shut down for good by April if tourism doesn’t increase
HNN: Without a tourism rebound, half of Hawaii restaurants say they’ll be permanently closed by April
SA: Lagging tourism could lead to majority of Hawaii’s eateries shuttering by April, survey says