IF YOU haven't booked a place at a restaurant for Chinese New Year reunion dinner, you may already be too late to do so.
Of 45 Chinese restaurants that Life-Style called up this week, only five could confirm at press time that they still have tables available for dinner on the eve of CNY on Feb 6.
Restaurateurs say reservations poured in earlier this year.
Ms Evelyn Yo, 31, director of public relations at the Ritz Carlton, notes that its Summer Pavilion restaurant was fully booked by the first week of this month. Last year, full house was achieved only two weeks before the eve.
Asked why business is more brisk this year, she speculates: "It could be seasonal.
This year's Chinese New Year is closer to Christmas than last year's, so the momentum for festive dining out is there."
The first day of CNY fell on Feb 18 last year.
"People who dined here at Christmas and enjoyed themselves found it convenient to book in advance for CNY's eve," she says.
Business is just as good for Grand Copthorne's restaurant Grand Shanghai. Manager Shirley Neow, 46, says all seats were taken up by last month.
Early bird Jocelyn Voo, 39, a sales manager, reserved a table there two years ago after her reunion dinner in 2006.
"When we wanted to book for the eve of CNY in 2007, we were told that it was already fully booked, so we had no choice but to reserve a place for 2008," she says.
Given the rosy demand despite an increase in prices of up to 20 per cent at restaurants, it is no wonder then that some people are on the waiting list.
Housewife Cheryl Ng, 38, could not get a reservation at Min Jiang at One North two weeks ago.
"It's the first time my family's dining out in eight years, so we didn't know we had to book this early."
In response to increased patronage, some restaurants like Canton Wok by Chef Kang have introduced premium menus.
Mr Ang Song Kang, 44, director of Canton Wok, says its new $1,888-for-10 menu has already drawn bookings, mostly from regular customers.
Last year, it charged a maximum of $1,088 for a table of 10.
Some hotels are opening up their ballrooms and function rooms to accommodate the overwhelming demand.
Take the case of Marina Mandarin Hotel. With its restaurant Peach Blossoms fully booked, it has set up 25 tables in its Vanda Ballroom and will allow a spillover into meeting rooms on another level.
Other restaurants are offering triple seatings.
Emperor's Soup will allow diners to walk in as early as 3pm while Long Beach@Dempsey has a third round from 10pm.
Rama Thai Sharksfin Restaurant, which also offers triple seatings, reveals that this is the first time in 12 years that it is fully booked.
But some eateries are sticking to just one seating.
Chan Chen Hei, 53, owner and master chef of Chef Chan's Restaurant, stresses the comfort of customers as a priority.
He says: "Everyone should take this opportunity to get together with his family and catch up with one another.
"Reunion dinners should be enjoyed, not rushed."
ORIENT OCEAN RESTAURANT
Hotel Miramar, Havelock Road, Tel: 6736-3677
Price: $438 to $788 for a table of 10
First seating: 8 tables for 10 each
Second seating: 12 tables for 10 each
PINE COURT CHINESE RESTAURANT
Meritus Mandarin Singapore,
Orchard Road, Tel: 6831-6288/66/62
Price: $88 per person (minimum three persons) to $2,688 for a table of 10
Availability: 88 per cent full
THE MUSHROOM POT
(Orchard Point outlet), Tel: 6733-9910
Price: $158.80 for four persons to $428.80 for 12 persons
PARISS INTERNATIONAL SEAFOOD BUFFET RESTAURANT
(Marina Square outlet), Tel: 6258-6688
Price: $48.80 per person
Availability: 120 seats
FURAMA PALACE RESTAURANT
Furama City Centre, Eu Tong Sen Street Tel: 6531-5380
Price: $288 for two persons to $1,888 for 10 persons
Availability: 6 tables (4 to 6 per table)