Eateries see spike in large group bookings as Covid-19 rules eased to allow groups of 10 diners

Diners at TungLok Signatures on Dec 28, 2020, when up to eight people were allowed to dine together. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Several restaurants, as well as venues with live music, have already seen a spike for bookings following the announcement that dining-in capacities will double from five to 10 people per group from next Tuesday (March 29).

Key changes to measures implemented in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic were announced on Thursday.

"We have been looking forward to this day," said Mr Andrew Tjioe, president and chief executive of TungLok Group.

The group has 13 Chinese restaurant brands and operates venues such as TungLok XiHe Peking Duck and TungLok Signatures.

"Immediately after PM Lee's announcement this morning, we have been receiving several advanced bookings for larger groups," said Mr Tjioe, adding that it will now be able to resume serving speciality dishes that are typically enjoyed in larger groups.

Hotels like Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel The Stamford, which have 13 dining venues such as halal buffet restaurant Asian Market Cafe and Italian restaurant  Prego, have also seen keen interest.

“We’ve seen an immediate surge in bookings and inquiries, up approximately 20 per cent... The response from our customers has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly in regard to the removal of the drinks curfew,” said Mr Marcus Hanna, the hotels’ managing director.

Besides groups of up to 10 fully vaccinated people being allowed to dine at eateries, the current restriction on the sale and consumption of alcohol in food and beverage establishments after 10.30pm will also be lifted.

Live performances will be allowed to resume at all venues, as will outdoor live performances and busking.

Jazz club and bar Maduro in Dempsey is already working on scheduling live performances for next week, and has seen an influx of bookings.

Before the pandemic, the venue hosted jazz stalwarts and young, upcoming musicians who performed live. For the past two years, they have relied on live-streaming their performances to viewers.

"This is excellent news as the musicians are dying to get back to performing, so everyone is looking forward to it," said owner Peter Ng.

Mr Ng also welcomed the extension of alcohol sale hours past 10.30pm.

"People usually come here after dinner, and by the time they get in for a nightcap, it's closing time... It's been very frustrating, so this breathes life (into the venue again)," he said.

F&B associations applauded the sweeping changes and easing of restrictions.

The Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) - whose membership base represents 800 brands across more than 5,000 outlets - called it a "joyous day" for the F&B community and customers.

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Among the slew of rule changes, up to 75 per cent of employees who can work from home will be allowed to return to their workplaces, an increase from the current 50 per cent.

An RAS spokesman said this will hopefully provide a much-needed boost to the F&B businesses located in the Central Business District and office areas.

"The lifting of the restrictions on alcohol sales... and live performances will also certainly bring back the much-needed vibrancy to the F&B sector," added the spokesman. "We are optimistic and look forward to a more sustained recovery... in the coming months."

The meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (Mice) industry also got a boost as the capacity limit for larger events and settings - those with more than 1,000 people - will be raised to 75 per cent.

Smaller settings or events with 1,000 people or fewer will no longer have a capacity limit.

"Global travel restrictions have severely impacted the Mice business, but given the recent relaxations, we are confidently hopeful that we will see visitor numbers to our various events recover to pre-pandemic levels soon," said Ms Elaine Chia, global events organiser Comexposium's chief executive for the Asia-Pacific region.

Constellar, another event organiser, said the move will help rebuild confidence in the industry.

Group chief executive Jean-Francois Quentin said: "Displaying a strong commitment towards reopening our borders and easing restrictions are essential steps for us to rebuild confidence among global business communities in our ability to convene international audiences safely for immersive and engaging event experiences."

While almost all sectors have been allowed to push ahead with reopening, the nightlife sector - comprising bars, pubs, karaoke establishments, discotheques and nightclubs - has not yet been given the go-ahead to resume operations.

Nevertheless, Mr Nasen Thiagarajan, vice-president of the Singapore Nightlife Business Association, said the increase of dining-in capacities and the extension of liquor consumption hours are "an excellent move forward for the industry" overall.

"It is promising that (Finance) Minister Lawrence Wong has acknowledged that the authorities are looking into the safe resumption of nightlife businesses, and we are going to the drawing board with the various agencies to identify what needs a closer look at before a call can be made to restart operations."

Read next: What you need to know about Singapore's latest Covid-19 rules

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