Northern Ireland’s hotels, bars, restaurants and cafes were given the green light by Stormont to open from 3 July, days after the Republic eased its hospitality rules and just ahead of England on Saturday.
In the Sunflower bar in Belfast’s popular Cathedral Quarter, district manager Suzanne Magee was relieved to be back at work.
Greeting customers as they arrived, and guiding them to their tables, she said she had some mixed feelings before returning.
“I was a wee bit nervous and apprehensive about reopening but with the social distancing in place I feel really good seeing other staff and regular faces.
“It’s good to be back. I just feel bad about all the people in hospitality who have lost their jobs, so I feel quite lucky to be back here.”
Different business will operate different rules. There may be booking systems and, as fewer people are allowed in, people may face queues.
Social distancing limits set at two metres were dropped to one metre with mitigations in place after the hospitality sector said it needed this flexibility to make businesses viable.
Child maintenance worker Chloe Sayers, 19, who was drinking a honey liquor, said the Sunflower was “a second home” and that she “felt very safe”.
“The staff couldn’t be better,” she said. “It’s great.”
Eoghan Edwards, 22, from north Belfast, was with a friend, drinking “a half pint just to set us off”.
“It’s a strange feeling being back,” he said. “It doesn’t feel as unsafe as supermarkets do because of the social distancing.
“It will take a while to get back to normal but for the meantime it will have to do.”
At the Sunflower’s sister pub, The American Bar in the Sailortown area of Belfast, down by the docks, the doors were open at midday.
Manager Ricky McCallion, who was serving drinks and hearty Irish stew and soup and bread to customers, said for now the pub will be open Thursday to Sunday.
“I’m glad to be back after furlough,” he said.
“It’s been quiet but good so far, people seem relaxed.”
Patrons are being encouraged to dress for inclement weather, while staff may take people’s temperature and ask for phone numbers to assist with any possible contact tracing.
There may also be a time limit set by individual establishments, much like pre-Covid restaurant bookings.
If you are sitting in a pub there is no propping up the bar. It has to be table service or via an app, and you must order a substantial meal.
However, if the pub has outdoor seating you do not have to order food.
American Bar regular Patrick Wilson said he was happy to be back at his favourite bar and after months of no pub time was looking forward to “a Sunday session”.
“Tins of Guinness just aren’t the same,” he said.
The owner of both The Sunflower and the American Bar, Pedro Donald, said time would tell if the businesses could stay open.
“It’s great to be back again,” he said.
“The initial few weeks will tell us whether the business is viable with the new and understandable rules and regulations.
“We stayed in touch with a lot of our regulars on social media, but it is great to see them in person again.
“Hopefully this new situation will be short-lived.”
Meanwhile, the number of Covid-19 related deaths in Northern Ireland has fallen for the eighth week in a row.
According to the latest figures from the Northern Ireland Research and Statistics Agency (NIRSA), up to 26 June there has been a total of 826 Covid-19-related deaths.