Restaurants see a surge of bookings for bigger groups with 5 people allowed to dine-in

Manager Celvin Chiang (left) and supervisor Anil Dayal making sure there is safe distancing between diners at Canchita Peruvian Restaurant on July 11, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Restaurants are getting a booster shot from diners eager to go out with family and friends since the announcement last week that five people can dine in from Monday (July 12). When dining in resumed on June 21 after phase two (heightened alert), only groups of two peeople were allowed.

Chef Andrew Walsh of Cure Concepts, which owns three restaurants in the Central Business District - Cure, Catfish and Butcher Boy - said they had seen bookings, mainly for bigger groups, go up by at least 30 per cent after the announcement on July 7.

Ms Karen Cheng, owner of The Gyu Bar in Stevens Road, known for its wagyu yakiniku, shabu shabu and sukiyaki, also reported a 30 per cent increase in bookings, all for larger groups.

She said: "Our kind of food is popular with guests who tend to dine in groups. With two persons dining in, there simply wasn't the same sense of camaraderie."

Canchita Peruvian Cuisine in Dempsey Road said about 60 per cent of its reservations now are for groups of three people or more. Its manager, Mr Celvin Chiang, said that many diners with existing bookings had called to increase the number of people.

Firangi Superstar, a new modern Indian restaurant in Craig Road, said its reservations were already full for coming weeks but it nonetheless saw a 40 per cent increase in requests to increase the table size.

Chinese restaurants that tend to be more popular with big groups, such as Yan at the National Gallery Singapore, benefit most from the relaxation. Yan's general manager, Mr Shek Chi Kuen, said: "When it was restricted to two persons, we had days with below 20 diners. Our weekend numbers are now up by 60 per cent."

With bigger groups likely to spend more, he expects revenue to increase by 80 per cent.

Marina Bay Sands saw a surge of 62 per cent in telephone queries for its restaurants, which include Cut, Mott 32, Koma, Lavo Singapore, Waku Ghin and Rise, but said it was not more than the response when dining in for two people was announced last month. Ms Christine Sheares, its vice-president of F&B, nonetheless welcomed the relaxation as Rise, which serves international cuisines, can now showcase its family-style menus.

Some restaurateurs, however, were disappointed that the no-music rule was not lifted.

Chef Walsh of Cure Concepts pointed out: "Guests look forward to the full dining experience - great food and ambience. Without music, the social vibe we create within our spaces isn't complete."

Dr Martin Bem, the founding managing director of LeVeL33 restaurant in Marina Bay Financial Centre, agreed. He said: "We only played low background music which actually did not lead to increased speaking volumes. The music contributes immensely to a better experience and ambience. Particularly in these difficult times, everybody deserves a nice experience."

Meanwhile, there is no flurry to get restaurants ready for bigger groups as they had already gone through a similar phase of groups five persons allowed to dine in last year. While some will be reconfiguring tables to accommodate more people, others had earlier left the chairs empty for diners to put their belongings.

Fine-dining French restaurant Saint Pierre at One Fullerton, for example, had reduced the number of tables from 12 to eight since pandemic dining restrictions started last year. For next week, it will convert three of them to seat five people.

The restaurant's chef-owner Emmanuel Stroobant said: "Reducing the seating capacity turned out to be a blessing in disguise as our guests felt more comfortable. So when Covid-19 measures are further relaxed in future, we will keep to just eight tables."

SPH Brightcove Video
The group size limit for dining in increased back to five persons on July 12, as the easing of Covid-19 restrictions moves forward. Multimedia journalist Kimberly Jow speaks to diners, food stall owners and restaurant operators about the changes.

The Gyu Bar and Canchita are stocking up their kitchens with more food in anticipation of bigger orders. Canchita is adding staff as well as more eyes will be needed to keep a lookout for diners who violate safe distancing rules.

On making sure everyone sticks to the measures, Mr Stroobant said: "There had been times when customers saw a friend at another table and wanted to stop by to say hi. Our service crew would then gently remind them of the no-intermingling rule. And some diners thanked us for the reminder before returning to their seats."

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