Christmas is not yet here, but bookings for the Chinese New Year reunion dinner on Jan 27 next year, on the eve of the Year of the Rooster, are already coming in.
Most restaurants The Sunday Times spoke to say reservations are similar to this year's, with 20 to 50 per cent of their tables already booked. They expect reservations to surge later this month.
Some are fully booked or close to capacity for that day. For example, Hua Ting Restaurant in Orchard Hotel and Li Bai Cantonese Restaurant in Sheraton Towers are fully booked. Wan Hao Chinese Restaurant in Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel is full for its first seating and 80 per cent booked for the second.
Apart from hotels, Lai Wah Restaurant in Bendemeer is 90 per cent booked for both seatings and Keng Eng Kee Seafood in Alexandra is full for its first seating and 60 per cent full for its two other seatings.
Restaurants with healthy bookings attribute it to a strong following of regulars who made reservations as early as February this year after having their reunion dinners.
But some restaurants feel the pinch from the sluggish economy.
Mr Paul Liew, 35, who runs Keng Eng Kee Seafood, says that while reunion dinner reservations are on a par with this year's, dinner bookings for the week before and after the eve have fallen by 20 per cent.
"With the exception of important dates such as the seventh day of Chinese New Year, reservations during the season are coming in more slowly compared with last year, as diners are more careful with their spending."
The seventh day is Ren Ri, or Everybody's Birthday - many Chinese here celebrate it by eating yusheng.
At Peach Garden Restaurant, about 50 per cent of seats across its nine outlets have been filled. The restaurant is maintaining the prices of its festive set menus "with the soft economic conditions", says Mr Ho Toon Chian, 49, its assistant director of sales and marketing. He adds: "While reservations from companies are consistent, they are going for the cheaper dining packages."
Some restaurants have increased prices by 4 to 15 per cent because of the higher cost of ingredients, such as seafood, and manpower costs.
Ah Orh Seafood Restaurant in Jalan Bukit Merah, which is offering traditional Teochew dishes such as Seven Assorted Vegetables Stew as well as yusheng, has increased prices for its set menus by $20 to $40. Its owner, Ms Goh Chiew Buay, 43, says: "There has been a significant increase in the price of seafood, such as abalone from Mexico and fish and prawns from Malaysia and Indonesia. This could be due to the increasing demand in China for seafood."
Chinese restaurant Empress at the Asian Civilisations Museum has increased prices for its Chinese New Year menu by about 10 per cent more compared with its regular menus.
Mr Yuan Oeij, chairman of the Prive Group, which runs the restaurant, says: "Prices for key ingredients such as rock lobster from Indonesia and dried scallops from Japan generally increase by about 20 per cent during the festive periods."
Some diners are not letting this stop them from celebrating Chinese New Year in restaurants.
Operations manager Karen Ho, 28, who booked her reunion dinner at Keng Eng Kee Seafood last month, says: "It is a more convenient way of dining with the entire family, without the hassle of cooking at home. Since it is once a year, I don't mind paying for good quality food and service."
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What: Choose from eight set menus ranging from $118++ for four to six people to $198++ a person (minimum two persons). Chicken- themed menu highlights include Dual Style Roasted & Szechuan "Bon Bon" Chicken. About 70 per cent of its two seatings are available.
Where: 05-02 National Gallery Singapore, 1 St Andrew's Road
When: Jan 9 to Feb 11
Info: Call 6384-5585 or go to www.yan.com.sg
What: Tuck into three set menus: $68++ a person for lunch and $108++ or $128++ a person for dinner. New dishes include braised South African eight-head abalone and braised Berkshire pork knuckle with white pepper. About 80 per cent of its two seatings are available.
Where: 01-03 Asian Civilisations Museum, 1 Empress Place
When: Jan 9 to Feb 12
Info: Call 6238-8733 or go to www.empress.com.sg
What: Its nine outlets are about 50 per cent booked and each will have five to 10 set menus ranging from $68++ to $238++ a person. New this year is the Star Menu at selected outlets ($2,388++ for 10 people), which include a rooster-shaped yusheng.
Where: Nine outlets, including 33-01 OCBC Centre, 65 Chulia Street; and Level 3 Hotel Miramar, 401 Havelock Road
When: Jan 11 to Feb 11
Info: Go to www.peachgarden.com.sg
XI YAN PRIVATE DINING
What: There is a new six-course lunch menu ($68++) and eight other menus (from $88++ to $188++ a person). New dishes include rose-smoked chicken. About 30 per cent of its two seatings are available.
Where: 38 Craig Road
When: Jan 14 to Feb 17
Info: Call 6220-3546 or go to www.xiyan.com.sg
What: Choose from six set menus (from $88++ to $268++ a person, minimum four people). Highlights include vermicelli with Hokkaido scallop.
Where: 01-02 Clarke Quay, 3A River Valley Road
When: Jan 16 to Feb 11
Info: Call 6661-0197 or go to www.vlv.life
AH ORH SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
What: Two set menus ($388 for four to six people; $688 for eight to 10 people) are offered by this 97-year-old stall. It is 20 to 30 per cent booked for its two seatings.
Where: 01-1627, Block 115 Jalan Bukit Merah
When: Jan 25 to Feb 11
Info: Call 6275-7575
ZI YEAN RESTAURANT
What: Choose from five set menus (from $238 for four people to $888 for 10 people). Its three seatings are about 10 per cent booked. Highlights include pan-seared red wine prawns.
Where: 01-443, Block 56 Lengkok Bahru
When: Early next month to Feb 12
Info: Call 6474-0911 or go to www.ziyean.com.sg
KENG ENG KEE SEAFOOD
What: Its Alexandra Village outlet offers three set menus (from $288 for four to six people to $528 for eight to 10 people) and has 40 per cent of seats in two seatings available. The Pandan Gardens outlet has one menu ($528 for eight to 10 people) and is 50 per cent booked for its three seatings. Highlights include roasted Prosperity Chicken with deep-fried cuttlefish strips and lotus leaf rice.
Where: 01-136 Alexandra Village, Block 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1; and 01-12, 200 Pandan Gardens
When: Jan 16 to Feb 11
Info: Call 6272-1038 (Alexandra Village) or 6694-3044 (Pandan Gardens) or go to www.kek.com.sg
GU MA JIA
What: Choose from two set menus ($599 or $768 for 10 people). Dishes include ginseng fortune chicken and sea cucumber, bamboo fungus and crab meat. There are four seatings.
Where: 45 Tai Thong Crescent
When: Jan 15 to Feb 11
Info: Call 6285-2023 or go to www.gumajia.com.sg
What: It is almost fully booked for reunion dinner at the restaurant, but diners can also eat at the hotel's Windsor Ballroom, which is 40 per cent full for its two seatings. Two set menus ($538++ for six people and $988++ for 10 people) will be served. New dishes include roast chicken with sesame and Sichuan chilli sauce.
Where: Goodwood Park Hotel, 22 Scotts Road
When: Jan 27, set menus from Jan 12 to Feb 11
Info: Call 6730-1704 or go to www.goodwoodparkhotel.com
MAN FU YUAN
What: Choose from eight set menus (from $128++ a person, minimum of two people, to $2,088++ for 10). New dishes include black truffle yusheng with crab, silver bait fish and fruit. Up to 30 per cent of its two seatings have been booked.
Where: Level 2 InterContinental Singapore, 80 Middle Road
When: Jan 2 to Feb 11
Info: Call 6825-1007 or go to singapore.intercontinental.com/dine-drink/man-fu-yuan
HAI TIEN LO
What: Be spoilt for choice with eight set menus (from $128++ to $688.80++ a person). Dishes include Flourishing Wealth Reunion Yu Sheng in the shape of a rooster. About 25 per cent of seats in the second seating are available.
Where: Level 3 Pan Pacific Singapore, 7 Raffles Boulevard
When: Jan 9 to Feb 11
Info: Call 6826-8240 or go to www.panpacific.com/en/hotels- resorts/singapore/marina/stay/dining/hai-tien-lo.html
What: With its first seating at capacity and second seating 80 per cent full, late bookings will be diverted to the hotel's 500-seat grand ballroom, which is about 50 per cent booked. Set menus there start at $98.80++ a person, with dishes such as abalone, salmon and tuna yusheng and ginseng-marinated roast duck.
Where: Level 3 Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel, 320 Orchard Road
When: Jan 9 to Feb 11
Info: 6831-4605 or go to www.singaporemarriott.com/dining
INDULGE AT PARK
What:Take a walk down memory lane with a buffet of more than 30 dishes from the 1970s (from $55++ a person). Dishes include a Cantonese dish of poached chicken with ham.
Where: Level 1 Grand Park City Hall, 10 Coleman Street
When: Jan 16 to Feb 11
Info: Call 6432-5888 or go to www.parkhotelgroup.com/cityhall/yesterday-once-more-,special- offers_viewItem_14622-en.html