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Hawaiʻi restaurants try to find workers as capacity and spacing restrictions ease

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HONOLULU — Hawaiʻi restaurants are trying to find workers as COVID-19 capacity and social distancing rules that have been in place for much of the pandemic are lifted.

Restaurants and bars can operate at 100% capacity without 6-foot spacing between tables beginning Dec. 1.

“We still are facing an ongoing labor shortage,” said Ryan Tanaka, Hawaiʻi Restaurant Association's incoming chair.

Finding line cooks and other back-of-the-house employees is one of the biggest challenges, but there are other logistical issues involved with filling dining rooms.

“There’s a supply chain disruption that’s happening worldwide," Tanaka said. “So it’s still going to take some time for us to ramp up.”

Many restaurants are already getting reservations for large parties over the holiday season.

“I think we can actually add 10 to 15 more tables. It also depends how much tables we can put together for the larger parties," said Korie Sasano of Side Street Inn. "So it’s really going back to the old ways of how we used to do things.”

But they need the staff to accommodate those parties.

“Before we’ve done fliers and posted on social media, word of mouth, referral programs for employees," Sasano said. "So hopefully we try that again, and we can get more people coming in.”

Honolulu, Maui and Kauaʻi counties on Tuesday said they wouldn't impose new rules at restaurants after the statewide guideline goes away Nov. 30, thus allowing restaurants to return to full capacity and for distancing requirements to lapse.

Hawaiʻi County Mayor Mitch Roth said he would make an announcement soon, adding that he needed to meet with hospitality industry representatives first.

“Rather than come out with those ideas, I still have some people I want to listen to," he said at a joint press conference.

Gov. David Ige said county mayors will no longer need to get state approval before changing COVID-19 rules.

The indoor mask mandate remains in place statewide and the Safe Travels program will continue for travelers arriving in the state.

When asked when he planned to lift that requirement, the governor said health care professionals and state officials told him that wearing masks reduces the spread of the virus. He also relayed that governors from other states told him they regretted dropping mask mandates in their states, as they believed doing so contributed to surges.

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