Looking back at 2021, I would, if I was digitally savvy enough, summarise the year with a meme using an old Bruce Willis film. Imagine his character John McClane copied and pasted onto a fancy restaurant photo with the caption, “Dine Hard: With A Vengeance”. It was the year dining out made a comeback. Figures and statistics aside, anecdotally I know this much is true: Hongkongers went out to eat like never before. That’s saying a lot, because we already had a reputation for not staying home. Getting a weekend walk-in table at any popular restaurant in a shopping mall or busy district like Causeway Bay or Tsim Sha Tsui has been near impossible since the summer. The crowds at dim sum halls on Saturdays and Sundays have rivalled the traffic pre-2019. All that is stopping three generations of families enjoying har gau and siu mai together at a big table is a flimsy cardboard or Plexiglas barrier. A lot was made of how the pandemic had decimated the food and hospitality industry, with unions and representatives calling for government support and worker protection. That was at the nadir of the restrictions in 2020 , when you couldn’t even be in a restaurant after 6pm. Since then, we’ve revived our appetite for going out. Based on broad figures from the Hong Kong government’s statistics department, restaurant receipts in the third quarter of 2021 were up 44 per cent from a year earlier. Between July 1 and September 30 we spent HK$24.5 billion (US$315 million) eating out compared to HK$17.1 billion in the same period in 2020 (the lowest quarterly total since 2007). From that low, the figure has been climbing back up steadily. Still, gross sales for 2021 will only approach those of 2014 – but I suspect that is largely to do with operators being forced to spread their tables for social distancing and lower their prices to entice customers. Discounts and specials will end once restrictions are eased further and (fingers crossed) the Chinese border fully reopens for tourism. Omicron cluster: get tested or face legal action, 6 Hong Kong diners warned A lot of people think home delivery services are taking away business from restaurants; that’s true for the experience-oriented ones, but the pandemic has been a boon to food operators, as it has forced everyone to develop a takeaway sideline. The variable is whether customers will continue their order-in habit after the pandemic ends. The administration has boasted that its consumption voucher scheme is the primary reason for the hospitality industry bouncing back, but I suspect the HK$5,000 handouts – split into three instalments for Octopus card users – only added a little to overall sales. When you’re having a quick noodle lunch by yourself, absolutely you’ll use the Octopus to pay. However, when the time comes to divide the bill at a friend’s dinner gathering, it still looks cheap when everyone pulls out a credit card and you ask to charge your portion of the payment. Ultimately, after two years of eating from cardboard boxes in front of a screen, people are desperate to go out and have finely prepared dishes brought to them, served on an actual china plate while it’s still hot. We all crave the social and experiential indulgence of dining out, even though between each course everyone might revert to the isolationist cubbyhole of their phone – apparently, it’s called “phubbing” when you snub everyone in favour of looking at your phone. So let’s hope 2022 is when we finally defeat Covid-19. Then we can look forward to longer queues at new establishments and even more exorbitant prices from hotels and celebrity chefs , and once again be crammed back-to-back, elbow-to-elbow in overrated Mid-Levels restaurants. That’s when we’ll know the city is truly back to normal. Happy New Year and yippee ki-yay. Like what you read? Follow SCMP Lifestyle on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram . You can also sign up for our eNewsletter here .