SINGAPORE - Diners having their meals at Crystal Jade restaurants on Tuesday (April 26) may not notice that the cutlery has been pre-set on the table and salt and pepper shakers neatly placed on the side.
It would have been unremarkable, if not for the past two years, during which tables were left bare of cutlery and condiments until customers were seated, for hygiene reasons.
Very soon, this and other inconveniences will be relegated to a thing of the past, as a litany of measures and disruptions Covid-19 has wrought on the dining-out experience are lifted and removed on Tuesday.
With the announcement last week that vaccination-differentiated safe management measures will no longer be in force in most settings from Tuesday, many places, including malls and dining establishments, have been preparing for a return to business as usual as Singapore knew it pre-pandemic.
The unvaccinated, for one, will no longer be barred from entering malls.
Orchard Central, run by Far East Organisation, began dismantling their SafeEntry gantries on Monday night.
At more than 20 CapitaLand malls here, SafeEntry counters have been removed, while Frasers Property, which has 13 malls including Causeway Point and Waterway Point, said all its mall entrances and exits will be reopened on Tuesday to resume the smooth flow of traffic.
Eateries, which from Tuesday are also no longer required to check the vaccination status of diners, have also removed safe distancing tape and TraceTogether QR codes.
An assistant store manager at Paris Baguette at Ion Orchard said the outlet has removed the codes previously stuck to the walls and is preparing to bring in more chairs and tables.
Millennium Hotels and Resorts restaurants, including Hua Ting at Orchard Hotel and Grissini at Grand Copthorne Waterfront, said they are reinstating some pre-pandemic seating arrangements to let in more patrons, although foot markers at buffet lines will be kept for the sake of guests who still wish to maintain their distance from other patrons.
Crystal Jade's tables will be reorganised to seat larger groups, while promising better service.
"Since certain additional tasks, such as the checking of vaccination status, will be discontinued, our staff can now focus on other matters and attend to customers' needs and queries more quickly and efficiently," a spokesman said.
But, amid the optimism and a tentative return to normality, some restaurants said they will continue to keep tables spaced further apart, to err on the side of caution.
Ms Carolyn Tan, senior vice-president of TungLok Group, said the group's restaurants will keep the partitions between tables and continue to check the vaccination status of patrons. They are also not planning to add more dining tables just yet.
"With the new measures just freshly implemented, we are not in a hurry to make major changes to our current restaurant settings," she said.
Ms Samantha Tan, general manager of South Beach Consortium, also said restaurants located at South Beach, such as Harry's, Lady M and Masaaki, will continue the 1m distancing between tables.
"The restaurants hope to offer reassurance to Singaporeans and tourists alike that their safety is our priority."
For shoppers, the change is a much awaited reprieve. For too long, they said, they have had to queue at the correct entrance to check in and search for exits that might be far from where they are in the mall.
Not having to check in at restaurants will make dining in more fuss free.
Retiree Jacob Tan, 65, said he has already made plans to dine in with his family in a group of 10.
"It's easier without having to check in and I won't need to leave my Bluetooth on anymore, which will conserve my phone's battery life," Mr Tan added.
He intends to keep the TraceTogether app on his mobile phone in case a new wave of the coronavirus emerges.
Marketing executive Raynen Wong, 23, said shoppers used to have to queue at Northpoint City in Yishun for 20 minutes to enter the mall during peak periods like a Friday evening.
Welcoming the reopening of more entry points, he said: "This is another step towards normal life."
Additional Reporting by Jong Ching Yee and Bryan Cheong
Correction note: An earlier version of this story said SafeEntry electronic gantries were taken down at Far East Square and Far East Plaza on Monday night. They were actually taken down at Orchard Central. We are sorry for the error.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.