As Honolulu restaurants reopen today for dining in, those that can may use creative outdoor seating to allow for more customers, and hence more revenue.
Social distancing requirements are just about cutting maximum capacity in half. The rule calling for at least 6 feet between tables reduces full capacity to around 50% for most eateries. But the potential bottom line improves if outside tables are added.
“We’re expecting a busy (Friday) night,” Kevin Hanney, owner of 12th Ave Grill in Kaimuki, said Thursday. “We’ve got about 100 reservations. People, especially a lot of our loyal regulars, are excited about getting out on the first night.”
Reservations, ordering meals ahead and a new 90-minute dining time limit will help turn over tables more quickly and fit in with official guidelines designed to keep people from lingering, to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
Hanney also is seeking permission to use what is usually a moped and bicycle parking area in front of the restaurant for more tables. He said 24 guests could be seated in the 20-by-30-foot area while still following distancing rules.
“It’s not a revenue-generating space for the parking company,” Hanney said.
Another parking area for bikes and mopeds is a few feet away, in front of Angelo Pietro, which will also be open for in-restaurant dining today.
City officials said they were looking at making exceptions to current laws.
“The city is considering … temporarily allowing restaurants to extend their dining area onto city property as part of a COVID-19 recovery plan, as long as certain restrictions are followed. This program is still under review,” a representative from the Department of Planning and Permitting said in an emailed statement.
Hanney met with a city representative Thursday, and was hoping to get final approval early today, he said.
Less than a block away, there will be four two-person tables in front of Koko Head Cafe, which Hanney also owns.
Hanney also has a vision of turning the block of 12th Avenue between Harding and Waialae avenues into a one-lane street, with the other existing lane used by the various eateries in the area for outdoor cafe-style seating. “Like you see in Paris or New York City,” he said.
At Salt at Our Kakaako, customers of Bevy will be able to dine on a public sidewalk area today.
Bevy and Taco‘ako owner Christian Self said that before restaurants were forced to close in March, he already had permits from the Honolulu Liquor Commission and the area’s community association to use the sidewalk area in front of Bevy.
Twenty seats can fit in the outside area while following social distancing guidelines, Self said.
“We expect a good turnout. About 95% of our clientele is local, a lot of people from the new condos here, the people we see every day walking their dogs. This is the local place to go for the neighborhood people.”
Next door at Insomnia, a small cafe owned and staffed by wife and husband Lethu Thi Hoang and Hiep Thanh Vu, just a few seats are available inside. They have decided to not open that dining area yet, but will use the space right outside their door for three tables fitting two people each. The tables are not on the sidewalk, so no permitting is needed. Also, they are covered.
“We’re not ready to do inside,” Hoang said between serving a steady stream of customers wanting Vietnamese-style coffee and sandwiches. “There’s only the two of us working here. That was good, because we were able to keep the business going without laying off anyone.” But she worries about the two of them being able to constantly keep the interior clean as dining-in customers come and go.
She said she’d reconsider dining-in service “when people aren’t wearing masks and are comfortable.”
Reuben Balmores of Sculpture Hospitality Hawaii started a petition drive to allow more outside seating in areas owned by the city. “There’s no reason why it can’t work,” he said. “In Los Angeles there’s a lot of al fresco dining, and our air quality here is a lot better.”
The lobbying by restaurant owners and chefs started by Balmores got the government wheels rolling to help the businesses, but he knows one size does not fit all in this situation.
He added, “You can’t cookie-cut these things. The restaurant business is competitive and you have to be creative, but obviously, people want to be safe, too.”