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Servers are glad to return to work as Hawaii customers slowly return for sit-down dining

  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Scratch Kitchen server Cassidy Essex took on the duty of sanitizing a seating area Friday to prepare for dine-in customers.

    BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Scratch Kitchen server Cassidy Essex took on the duty of sanitizing a seating area Friday to prepare for dine-in customers.

  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Mayor Kirk Caldwell, center, held a press conference Friday on the sidewalk in front of The Surfing Pig, where the restaurant was able to use a portion of the city sidewalk for an outdoor seating area.

    BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Mayor Kirk Caldwell, center, held a press conference Friday on the sidewalk in front of The Surfing Pig, where the restaurant was able to use a portion of the city sidewalk for an outdoor seating area.

Perhaps no one is happier than restaurant servers now that dining in is allowed again in Honolulu.

“It’s awesome to be back,” Cafe Kaila server Wayne Kato said Friday morning, after he took the orders of regular customers David and Ann Snakenberg.

Kato was glad to be busy again. The restaurant’s dining room closed in March — along with all others on Oahu — due to a city and county emergency order brought on by COVID-19 concerns. Since then, Kaila continued to offer takeout, but as there was no one for servers to serve, Kato was among the thousands statewide out of work.

After some initial difficulties, he figured out the unemployment system. But Kato, 39, of Makiki, said he would rather be busy at the restaurant where he has worked for 10 years and has made many friends among customers and coworkers.

>> PHOTOS: Oahu restaurants reopen for dine-in restriction customers

It was definitely different than in pre-pandemic days: In Kaila’s once-bustling dining room, tables are now spaced 6 feet apart and servers wear masks and face shields. As per city and county guidelines, customers are asked to wear masks, except when sitting at their tables.

Kato added a personal touch to his face shield, writing on it, “Hi! My name is Wayne.”

Another longtime Cafe Kaila server, Stephanie Thiel, said that “contact” is the biggest difference now that she’s working in a mask. “I’m talking to people a little louder,” she said.

The Snakenbergs were first in line and through the door of the Market City Shopping Center restaurant Friday, a few minutes after 7 a.m. They had supported the restaurant the past 11 weeks by regularly ordering takeout.

“It really is like family here, like ‘Cheers’,” said David Snakenberg, an Air Force retiree. He and Ann, a retired teacher, chatted with each employee who came by to say hello.

More customers trickled in as the Snakenbergs enjoyed their breakfast; it was an encouraging start for early on the first morning.

Later, at 10 a.m. at Scratch Kitchen, only one group had come in for a sit-down meal at the Ward Village restaurant also known for brunch fare.

Chef Brandon Mezurashi was not too concerned, because takeout business has been going well there. But some uncertainty remains.

“You don’t know if people are afraid, or if they’re just not ready to go out yet,” he said. “We’re being very careful to do everything to lessen contact, even when ordering. You can even scan a bar code on your phone for our menu.”

“Right now, we’re just trying to make sure everyone is getting fed,” Mezurashi added.

At 11 a.m., Mayor Kirk Caldwell held a news conference at the entrance to The Surfing Pig on Waialae Avenue. The location was symbolic. Caldwell stood between two sidewalk tables, the first approved via a pilot program under which restaurants may apply online to use city-owned sidewalk areas for seating.

Since social distancing guidelines allow most restaurants to use only about half of their dining room floor space, having access to outdoor seating can ease financial deficits.

“This is to celebrate opening up of our restaurants,” Caldwell said. “The other part is we want to be outside.”

He said the pilot program will continue as long as restaurants must operate under social distancing guidelines, and perhaps beyond.

At 2 p.m., Jon Ishii, a high school math teacher from Hawaii Kai, enjoyed a sit-down meal at The Counter at Kahala Mall with friends and family.

“This is wonderful,” he said. “I hardly leave the house and I’ve been craving a burger. And I’m really glad the servers get to work again.”

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