SINGAPORE - It used to be that getting a reservation at a restaurant meant calling just a few days ahead.
Not any more. Now, you may have to reserve a few weeks or even more than a month in advance for popular eateries.
And do not even think about walking into these places without a booking.
With travel curtailed, many people are spending their holiday budget on dining out with family and friends.
But with social distancing measures, restaurants have had to scale back on seating capacity.
Japanese restaurants, which are popular with Singaporeans, are the most affected, especially smaller establishments that seat fewer than 20.
The 13-seater Sushi Kou in Cavenagh Road, where the average spending a person is $500 without alcohol, is fully booked for dinner until June. You can, however, still get seats for lunch at the end of the month.
Eateries like French fine-dining restaurant Euphoria in Tras Street - which have adopted the common Japanese practice of opening up bookings one month at a time - also find their tables snatched up within minutes.
Bigger Chinese restaurants, especially those by well-known groups such as TungLok, Paradise and Crystal Jade, are seeing a similar spike in reservations on weekends. Where one used to be able to easily get a table a week in advance, it now requires more than a month.
Ms Jean Wee, general manager of Chope Singapore, a popular reservation platform here with 1,500 restaurants under its umbrella, says the number of bookings in the last quarter of last year increased by more than 21 per cent compared with the same period in 2019.
In the first quarter of this year, bookings jumped more than 42 per cent compared with the same period last year, which coincided with when the pandemic hit Singapore.
Chope Singapore tracks the figures through restaurant websites and its network of affiliate websites, including Google and TripAdvisor, as well as its own app and website. It also monitors phone bookings when restaurants add them to digital reservations powered by Chope.
The rush for tables has created another problem, where diners make multiple bookings and do not bother to cancel those they no longer want.
Fine-dining restaurants like Les Amis at Shaw Centre have long had a policy of collecting credit card details to deter no-shows, which can make a significant dent in the revenue of these small venues.
Other restaurants that impose a penalty for late cancellations include the 26-seat Euphoria, which charges $150 a person if a reservation is given up less than 72 hours ahead, and Sushi Kou, which slaps a charge of $380 a person for retractions made within 48 hours.
Some mid-priced restaurants now impose a fee too.
Chope says 189 restaurants on its platform now collect deposits. Before the circuit breaker, only 80 did. For example, Slate, a cosy cafe in Purvis Street, imposes a credit card deposit of $10 a person.
Italian restaurant Zafferano in Collyer Quay, which seats 95, previously had a credit card hold only for bookings for tables of six or more. But in July last year, it extended that to all reservations. The penalty ranges from $50 for lunch to $100 for a weekend dinner.
Mr Vadim Korob, the restaurant's managing director, says the action was prompted by an unprecedented number of last-minute cancellations and no-shows after the circuit breaker.
These are now minimal, he notes. But, he adds: "Of course, if the guest has an emergency, we will waive the charges."