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Restaurants still need our support

Whether you’re ordering won ton mein at Sam Sato’s or macadamia nut-crusted fresh catch at Haliimaile General Store, going out to eat has always been a treat.

Like so many things taken for granted before the pandemic, we had no idea how truly special the restaurant experience was. Fresh tasty food, friendly service, no grocery shopping, cooking or pots and pans to clean — apart from paying the bill, what’s not to like?

These truths set in last Sunday as we enjoyed our first indoor restaurant meal in nearly a year at Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Bar. The Kihei landmark recently moved to a new location at Kukui Mall. Its menu has been pared down, but all of our favorites were available to order, and order we did.

The tastes were as delectable as remembered, but Sansei’s atmosphere now includes temperature checks, tables spread far apart and a staff bent on cleaning every surface. Takeout orders appear to be a more important part of the business than they were previously.

Between bites of sushi and shrimp dynamite, other thoughts set in, like how difficult it must be to run a restaurant during a pandemic. Maui restaurateurs have been sorely challenged by the dramatic downturn in tourism the disease has wrought. Some will not make it through. They are not alone in their struggles.

The National Restaurant Association estimates more than 100,000 restaurants in America closed for good in 2020. A recent poll of restaurant operators found that 60 percent of them did not think their operational environments would return to normal for at least seven months. That’s not a full recovery they are predicting, just the ability to be open without mask requirements, to have a populace that is not worried about going out. Twenty-nine percent of the operators said it would take more than a year and 10 percent said their business would never return to normal.

What can we do to help? The website Today .com lists several ways. The first is obvious. Support your favorite restaurants. If you are not ready to dine in, order your food to go. Most establishments have pivoted to takeout.

The second suggestion is not so obvious. When ordering online, avoid third-party apps. These applications, which are often the first things that pop up when you do a search, charge restaurants hefty fees that cut deep into already thin margins. Find the restaurant’s own website or phone number.

Other recommendations include making sure to tip well, supporting local relief funds and purchasing gift cards for future use.

Maui’s restaurants are celebrations of culture and cuisine. A lot of pride goes into how meals are prepared and served. This island entered the pandemic with a diverse array of world-class dining options. How many remain standing when this scourge ends depends on many factors, including the support they receive from us.

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