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Is Hawaii Expensive To Eat Out?

Last update: 2023-12-09

Hawaii is known for its beautiful beaches, tropical climate, and aloha spirit. However, it's also known for being an expensive place to visit and live. This includes the cost of dining out at restaurants. Here's a deeper look at whether eating out in Hawaii is expensive or affordable.

The High Cost of Importing Food

Hawaiian dish Kalua pork slowly cooked and served with stewed cabbage and fresh salad close up on a plate.
One major factor that contributes to the high cost of dining in Hawaii is that over 80-90% of the state's food is imported. This includes fresh produce, meat, dairy, and dry goods. Hawaii's remote island location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean makes importing food very expensive. The added shipping and transportation costs get passed onto consumers. This is a big reason why grocery costs in Hawaii are amongst the highest in the nation. And naturally, restaurants have to charge more in order to cover their high food costs.

High Commercial Rental Spaces

Another expense for Hawaii restaurants is the price of commercial rental spaces. In popular tourist areas like Waikiki on Oahu, the monthly rent for restaurant spaces is astronomical. For example, the average price per square foot for commercial space in Waikiki is $6.24. That's much higher than the national average of $1.75 per square foot. With such high overhead costs, Hawaii restaurants have no choice but to charge higher menu prices.

High Minimum Wages

Traditional Hawaiian plate lunch
Hawaii also has one of the highest state minimum wages in the United States at $12 per hour. By 2018, the minimum wage will rise to $10.10 per hour. In contrast, the U.S. federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Hawaii's high labor costs mean restaurants need to charge more for their menu items in order to cover payroll expenses. A plate lunch in Hawaii can easily cost $10-$15. The same meal might only cost $5-$8 in other parts of the mainland U.S.

Tourist Demand Allows High Pricing

One of the biggest reasons Hawaii restaurants can charge high prices is steady tourist demand. Hawaii attracts over 9 million visitors per year. Many tourists are on their honeymoon or vacation and have allotted Hawaii as a "once in a lifetime" trip. They are less sensitive to pricing when dining out. When tourists go out to restaurants, they expect to pay more than they would back home. As long as tourists keep flocking to Hawaii, restaurants will keep charging premium prices.

Tips for Eating Affordably in Hawaii

  • Hawaiian poke coconut bowl with grilled salmon, rice and avocado. Healthy food.
    Opt for plate lunch spots. Plate lunch combo meals are an affordable way to experience local Hawaiian food for around $10-$15 per entree.
  • Eat at food trucks. You can find tasty, casual meals for under $10 at Hawaii food trucks. Popular picks include garlic shrimp, fresh ahi poke bowls, and shave ice.
  • Dine early. Restaurants often offer early bird dinner specials between 4-6 pm with discounts of 25% or more off menu prices.
  • Split entrees or appetizers. Hawaii restaurant portions tend to be large. Split one entree between two people and add an appetizer to share.
  • Buy groceries. Stock up on groceries from local supermarkets and make simple meals in your hotel room. Grocery items are still expensive, but cheaper than dining out for every meal.
  • Avoid Waikiki. Dine in less touristy neighborhoods like downtown Honolulu or venture to a nearby island like Maui or Kauai for lower prices.
  • Research happy hour deals. Many Hawaii restaurants offer discounts on appetizers, drinks, and menu items during daily happy hour.


Is it cheaper to eat out or buy groceries in Hawaii?

It's generally cheaper to buy groceries rather than dining out for every meal in Hawaii. Grocery prices are high because most food is imported, but grocery bills are usually lower than the total cost of eating all three meals a day at restaurants.

What is a typical cost of a meal at a casual restaurant in Hawaii?

At a casual sit-down restaurant in Hawaii, expect to pay an average of $15-$25 per entree. At lower-end establishments like plate lunch joints and food trucks, meals cost $10-$15 per person. At higher-end restaurants, entrees easily exceed $30+ per person.

What are some budget-friendly restaurants and dishes in Hawaii?

For budget eats, look for plate lunch spots serving entrees like chicken katsu, kalua pork, and fried fish. Hawaiian food trucks are also very affordable, serving items like fresh poke bowls, shave ice, and saimin noodle soup for under $10 per meal.

How much should you tip at restaurants in Hawaii?

The standard restaurant tipping etiquette in Hawaii is 15-20% of the pretax bill. Some restaurants may include a service charge of 18-20% automatically added to the check, in lieu of tipping. Be sure to check your receipt before adding any additional tip.

Are restaurant portions large enough to share in Hawaii?

Yes, most restaurant entrees in Hawaii tend to be very generous. Plates are often heaping with food, so sharing is definitely an option to cut down costs. Appetizer portions are also ample enough to be shared by two people.


Dining out in Hawaii is undoubtedly expensive compared to most other destinations in the U.S. Due to factors like high food import costs, inflated commercial rents, and steady tourist demand, restaurants charge premium prices. However, you can still find affordable ways to eat well in Hawaii if you're flexible, do research, and utilize tips like eating at plate lunch spots, food trucks, happy hours, and splitting items. With the right approach, you can experience delicious Hawaiian cuisine on any budget.

Stylish Hawaiian shirt for a great vacation

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