SINGAPORE - Hawkers and coffee shop stall owners saw the buzz return to their venues on Tuesday (Nov 23) morning, as patrons from different households were once again allowed to dine in groups of up to five.
As part of the initial run of venues that will allow such groups, 11 hawker centres and seven coffee shops were identified as being able to control access, as well as conduct checks on the vaccination status of their customers.
Hawkers The Straits Times spoke to saw more life on Tuesday morning compared with the weeks before, when patrons could dine only alone or in pairs.
"You can feel the difference today, it's more busy," said Madam Ng Bee Leng, 57, whose family has been running Holland Village Homemade Soyabean at Holland Village Market and Food Centre since the 1970s. "More parents have been bringing their kids here. I have not seen them for so long."
It was a similar case at Kampung Admiralty Hawker Centre in Admiralty.
Madam Ainun Hasan, 50, a full-time employee at Warong Lorong Fatimah stall, said: "The hawker centre feels a lot livelier today. Usually it's very quiet, especially since people order takeaway. Now that they allow five people to dine in, there are more families dining in, or even elderly people with their friends."
ST visited several hawker centres and coffee shops across the island in areas such as Hougang, Admiralty, Tiong Bahru, and Holland Village on Tuesday morning and just before lunch.
Kampung Admiralty Hawker Centre in Admiralty was packed with the breakfast crowd and hawkers in Beo Crescent Market in Tiong Bahru enjoyed a brisk lunchtime business.
Others, like Holland Village Market and Food Centre and and Ci Yuan Hawker Centre in Hougang, were only half occupied in the morning.
Coffee shop The Patio in Sembawang was near empty just before lunch. But some larger groups had showed up the day before, thinking that the new rules on diners from different households being able to dine together had kicked in.
“Yesterday, we had four to five groups of five coming in because they thought that the five-person rule had already started and they were excited to eat together as a bigger group,” said the coffeeshop’s supervisor, who only wanted to be known as Mr Sathia.
He said he expects business to pick up later in the day.
Another coffee shop, Goodyear Restaurant Enterprise in Tampines, said business picked up by about 50 per cent on Tuesday.
But its owner Ms Geraldine Peh, 25, said the constant rule changes have been “draining”.
“We have to always adapt to new measures and keep up with the news and inform our staff about the rules, so that we don’t flout them...I just hope to see business pick up (further) because we are holding a coffee shop license and we were quite affected by the two-person dining in rules even though our shop layout is like a restaurant,” said Ms Peh.
Patrons interviewed said they welcomed the chance to dine with their friends again.
Three retirees were spotted chatting together over cups of coffee at Holland Village Market and Food Centre.
One of them, who wished to be known only as Mr Siu, 67, said that the trio would meet regularly at the food centre for their morning coffee before the pandemic struck.
Another member of the group, who declined to be named, told ST: "Because the restrictions have relaxed a little, instead of going to each other's houses, we decided to come here because it's midway from everyone's house.
"We also chose to come here early this morning to avoid the crowd for safety reasons."
At these selected hawker centres and coffee shops, there was a maximum of two entry points, which had additional reinforcements such as iPads to scan patrons' TraceTogether apps and tokens, and additional cordons to direct traffic flow.
Fully vaccinated people or those who are eligible for dining at hawker centres were also given a sticker for identification.
Different hawker centres had different coloured square stickers, which were slightly bigger than a $1 coin.
However, those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated can only purchase food to take away.
Safe distancing officers dressed in white National Environment Agency (NEA) polo shirts and red armbands, as well as safe distancing ambassadors in red shirts were seen patrolling the various hawker centres.
More hawker centres and coffee shops will join the list of approved venues that can allow groups of five from different households by the end of this month.
The NEA and Singapore Food Agency on Saturday said that the remaining hawker centres under NEA and NEA-appointed operators will have entry and vaccination checks by Nov 30, while coffee shops can come on board when they have put in place the necessary control measures.