Honolulu Council Approves Return of Outdoor Dining in Public Spaces

The Honolulu City Council on Wednesday unanimously passed a measure allowing outdoor dining on sidewalks and other public spaces. The final version of Bill 27, presented by President Tommy Waters, offers a two-year pilot program

The Honolulu City Council on Wednesday unanimously passed a measure allowing outdoor dining on sidewalks and other public spaces.

The final version of Bill 27, presented by President Tommy Waters, offers a two-year pilot program to expand Oahu’s restaurants to sidewalks, parks, pedestrian malls, parks and playgrounds. If the program is successful, outdoor dining will become permanent.

The city had curbside dining temporarily permitted to help struggling restaurants during the Covid-19 pandemic, but that ended in March.

Bill 27 creates a pilot program that allows restaurants to expand outdoor dining in certain public spaces. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Alfresco dining has helped restaurants on Oahu, especially by attracting customers uncomfortable about eating indoors, according to Ave Kwock, vice president of the Hawaii Restaurant Association.

Kwock said the measure would help restaurants financially, especially some bars/restaurants that don’t yet have outdoor seating.

“It was a challenge,” Kwock said. “A lot of diners prefer to dine outside because it’s safer.”

The bill awaits the approval of Mayor Rick Blangiardi, who has made it clear that he supports it.

“I offer a heartfelt mahalo to Honolulu City Council members for unanimously passing this measure knowing full well that we needed the collaborative effort necessary in a post-pandemic economic recovery,” said Blangiardi in a written statement. “The City and County of Honolulu is unlike anywhere else on the planet and outdoor dining, thanks to Bill 27, will help showcase the charm of this very special place.” And that bill will be good for restaurants and customers. Everybody wins !”

The program would start in six months. The mayor will decide which city department will oversee the pilot program.

Restaurants would have to comply with a number of conditions to operate outdoors on sidewalks, malls and parks.

“We are still in economic recovery mode and we need to look at all possible avenues for small businesses to thrive, including our restaurants,” Vice President Esther Kiaaina said in an interview. “But of course they have to adapt to the parameters.”

Under the law, restaurants that extend their meals onto public sidewalks must clean furniture between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Restaurants selling alcohol must seek approval from the Honolulu Liquor Commission.

Restaurants must also adhere to all Covid requirements under emergency orders, including social distancing. Outdoor furniture should be located at least six feet from vehicle ramps, driveways or intersections.

The program also requires that fire fighting corridors be kept clear at all times. Outdoor furniture should be placed five feet from fire hydrants and eight feet from bus stops.

In malls, restaurants cannot allow outdoor dining outside of mall hours or serve alcohol and must clean up trash.

Restaurants in the mall must also maintain a clear 20-foot-wide right-of-way to “accommodate delivery and emergency vehicles.”

Restaurants adjoining city parks or playgrounds are only allowed one row of tables “limited to a maximum of seven feet from the property line.”

Restaurants will have to pay $50 to apply for a permit. They should be located on the ground floor and abutting paved city property, said Jon Nouchi, director of the city’s transportation services department.

According to the bill, the city department responsible for the program will have to submit a report to council recommending whether the program should become permanent.

“I think it’s a great program, and it hasn’t been controversial because everyone agrees it’s a good idea,” Kiaaina said.