Oahu eateries will soon be able to extend dining to sidewalks and other public spaces under a new city ordinance.

The al fresco initiative will start as a two-year pilot program and restaurants will have to follow numerous conditions in order to serve food to customers on sidewalks, parklets, malls, parks and playgrounds. If the program is successful, outdoor dining will become permanent.

“We hope that it’s really going to help our restaurants,” Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said Thursday at a news conference. “It’s not just a business, it’s a way of life.”

Yakitori Hachibei Managing Director Robert Yamazaki speaks during press conference along Hotel Street with Mayor Blangiardi.
Oahu diners may soon be able to eat outside. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

The announcement comes as Oahu businesses are recovering from the effects of Covid-19-related restrictions and could use the extra revenues by increasing their seating capacity. The new ordinance also gives customers an option if they feel uncomfortable eating indoors.

The city had temporarily permitted outdoor dining to help struggling restaurants after the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020, but that ended in March when the emergency order was lifted.

Yakitori Hachibei is one of the restaurants impacted by the pandemic. The Chinatown restaurant was closed for about five months and had to furlough staff in 2020, according to the restaurant’s managing director Robert Yamazaki.

Yamazaki said he reopened the restaurant in September 2020, but seating capacity was reduced from 42 to 22 due to social distancing requirements. During the city’s emergency order, he said the restaurant was able to add eight more seats outdoors, bringing in revenues from $600 to $1,000 per day.

“We still have diners that would enjoy dining outside because it’s safer,” he told reporters gathered outside his restaurant. “On top of that, it’s just nice to dine outside in Hawaii.”

Blangiardi assigned the Honolulu Department of Transportation Services to oversee the program.

Although the ordinance gives the program six months to begin, DOT Deputy Director Jon Nouchi said there’s urgency and he aims to get the program up and running by the end of August.

Nouchi added that the department is still working on a permitting process, as required by the ordinance.

“We don’t want to make this cumbersome for restaurants at all,” he said. “I do want to make this a painless process for everyone.”

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