SINGAPORE - When housewife Judy Seah, 65, learnt on Saturday (Nov 20) that she could dine in from Monday with her extended family, she immediately texted them to organise lunch.
"We are a very close-knit family and there are many of us. When restrictions were tighter, it was quite frustrating as we were not able to see them often," said Madam Seah, who lives with her husband.
On Monday, she had lunch at the Food Junction foodcourt in Junction 8 in Bishan with her two sisters-in-law and a niece, who live near her, and her husband.
Up to five fully vaccinated people from different households can dine together at restaurants and eateries, up from two previously.
It was part of Covid-19 curbs that were relaxed from Monday.
But Madam Seah is hoping restrictions could be eased further to allow eight to 10 people to dine together.
"That way, our family can meet again and we won't have to pick and choose who can join us for a meal and who can't," said Madam Seah, who has an extended family of more than 30 members.
She added that they used to frequently gather for birthday celebrations and Chinese New Year before the pandemic.
Hotels and restaurants that The Straits Times spoke to said they received a higher volume of calls and e-mails over the weekend after the multi-ministry task force tackling the pandemic announced relaxed measures on Saturday.
These were for new reservations and to modify existing reservations to accommodate bigger groups.
At Regent Singapore, this was most apparent at Italian restaurant Basilico and the hotel’s Tea Lounge, which typically see larger groups.
“We also saw a surge at (cocktail bar) Manhattan, where our guests are all adults, and mostly from different households... the easing of restrictions for them was long-awaited,” said general manager Oscar Postma.
There was a similar spike in reservations at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, especially at its all-day eatery, Colony.
“Going into the festive season, we are confident that reservations will continue to pick up, as it has been a long time since a larger group of extended family and friends have been allowed to enjoy a meal together,” said Mr Stephen Moroney, the hotel’s assistant director of food and beverage.
Malls and eateries that The Straits Times visited in the heartland and Central Business District were generally quiet on Monday just before and around lunchtime.
A number of diners were spotted in groups of three or four, with only a handful of groups of five at malls, namely Junction 8, Nex, Raffles City, 313 @ Somerset and Ion Orchard.
Mrs Linda Tan, 45, was spotted walking around Raffles City with her seven-year-old daughter and three of her friends while deciding on a lunch venue.
"We haven't seen each other for almost a year, so when we heard the news on Saturday, we were really excited," said Mrs Tan, who is self-employed.
"My friends and I have been looking forward to meeting up for so long. But we were holding it off because of the restrictions. We also couldn't go to each other's homes as only two visitors were allowed," she added.
Restaurants and foodcourts that The Straits Times spoke to said they expect footfall to pick up at dinner time and over the weekend.
Staff at food and beverage (F&B) outlets were concerned about groups flouting the rules and intermingling now that the capacities for dining in have been increased.
"We're understaffed right now, so it will be harder for us to manage crowds," said Ms Tan Zhi Yin, 27, supervisor at Tamago-EN, an egg speciality restaurant located in 313 @ Somerset.
"With the five-person dining-in rule, (I anticipate) people will start coming in groups of six, seven, eight and so on... we have to split them up but they will demand to sit at tables next to each other," said Ms Tan, who added that in the past, customers tried to move tables closer to their friends or family.
But others working at F&B establishments said the new rules, which no longer require them to verify people's addresses, will save them time.
From Nov 10 to Nov 21, only fully vaccinated people from the same household were able to dine together in groups of up to five.
They had to prove that they all belonged to the same household via their identification cards or apps such as Singpass or SGWorkPass.
Some eateries had to turn away groups which could not show proof that they were from the same household.
"I'm happy about the new rules because it means more customers (can come in) and we save time by not having to check their addresses," said Mr Yung Fu, 25, a supervisor at Ya Kun Kaya Toast at Nex.
The outlet welcomed a few groups of four and five on Monday morning.
Others like Madam Lucia Yeo, 62, who conducts SafeEntry checks at Junction 8's Food Junction, is relieved that she will no longer have to check people's identity cards to verify their home address.
"There was once I asked a patron for his identity card and he asked 'Are you the police?'," said Madam Yeo.
"The new rules are good because some patrons have gotten frustrated when I checked their identity cards."
At about 7.30pm on Monday, there were many families of five spotted at Heartland Mall in Kovan, but there were just as many groups with three or four people at eateries such as Saizeriya and Sanook Kitchen.
Over at Jem in Jurong East, lines had formed outside casual dining restaurants such as Pepper Lunch. However, diners were mostly in pairs, with a handful of four patrons at a table.
From Tuesday, 11 hawker centres and seven coffee shops will also be allowed to accept groups of up to five vaccinated people from different households.
Among them are Market Street Interim Hawker Centre and Tiong Bahru Market, where ST saw officials setting up plug points and iPads at entry points, as well as additional cordons to facilitate the flow of diners ahead of Tuesday.
The remaining hawker centres under the National Environment Agency (NEA) and NEA-appointed operators will have entry and vaccination checks by Nov 30, after which they will be open to groups of five vaccinated people from different households.