Thousands of hospitality workers are expected to return to work this week after dozens of registered clubs and hotels reopened across the Hunter on Monday.
Hospitality businesses were allowed to open their doors for up to 50 patrons yesterday, up from the 10-patron dining-only limit they have had to adhere to over recent weeks.
The capacity limit is higher for clubs and governed by the rule of a maximum one person for every four square metres of floor space, capped at 50 patrons per dining area.
Most clubs in the Hunter have now resumed operations under strict protocols and started reinstating their stood-down workers.
Belmont 16s CEO Scott Williams was ecstatic to open given early in the lockdown clubs were told they might not reopen until September.
He said Belmont 16s was blessed to have a large premises with multiple dining areas that meant it could house more than 400 patrons.
"It's staff back to work," he said. "It's us buying in supplies [and] stock and that's the baker or butcher up the street. Whoever it might be, we're spending with them again and it's the multiplier effect and how that grows through the local economy.
"But the biggest one is the isolation of some people. A lot of people that visit us are naturally socially isolated.
"I was talking to a lady this morning and she said she just hadn't been seeing her friends, because she comes down to the club and catches up with them here. Whether that be for bingo, a raffle or a coffee, the doors are open for those people again."
Mr Williams said the club had been forced to stand down 110 employees from its 160-strong workforce in March and hoped to have about 80 per cent of staff back into work this week.
"The bulk of them were [eligible for JobKeeper] but we had a couple who weren't," he said. "Most were sitting at home waiting to come back ... they're all pretty happy to be back on deck."
He said the club, initially open for members only, would try to share shifts among staff but it would be difficult to bring all employees back until large gatherings could be held.
"We don't have the need for some casuals because we're not operating any events or functions and that's where we scale up and scale down our operation," he said.
"We've tried to divide it out so everyone gets something. But at this stage there's not many of our full-timers working 38 hours, until we can get an understanding of how business comes back."
Elsewhere, Wests Group opened its clubs in Newcastle, New Lambton, Mayfield, Cardiff and Nelson Bay.
Club Macquarie has opened in Argenton, as has Swansea RSL ahead of the long weekend.
ClubsNSW lobbied hard for relaxed restrictions and put a case to the government that venues would follow strict protocols.
A spokesman said clubs reopening would ultimately benefit 63,000 people who relied on the industry for an income and 3.5 million club members.
"The shutdown has cost clubs hundreds of millions of dollars, so it's welcome news for the industry, particularly the 40 per cent of clubs who faced the prospect of permanently closing their doors the longer the shutdown [went]," the spokesperson said.
"Clubs will enforce social distancing measures, including the implementation of queuing systems and directional signage, and a requirement to remain seated unless placing an order. In many instances clubs will go beyond what's required, such as conducting temperature testing."
The Australian Hotels Associations said the relaxing of industry restrictions would put more than 44,000 hotel employees back into work.
John Whelan, CEO of the association's NSW branch, said an estimated 24,500 people had returned to work in metropolitan hotels and 20,000 in regional areas.
"We have 44,500 staff back out of our workforce of 75,000 - more will be put on in coming weeks as COVID-19 restrictions are hopefully lifted further," he said.
"This is a massive step forward for hotels and the NSW economy. Social distance rules will apply and capacity will be restricted but our hotels will start re-employing thousands of workers again."
He said pubs had suffered a severe blow from the lockdown and like other affected businesses would need support to ride out of the crisis.
"The entire hospitality sector has been hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis with hotels shut down across NSW and 94 per cent of our workforce stood down or terminated," he said.
"Hotels have struggled to survive - today marks the start of our come back as a great place for our communities to meet, relax and socialise."
He added: "Hoteliers have rightly put the health and safety of staff, patrons and the community first as we battle together to contain the spread of COVID-19, but the virus has obviously devastated hotels and our workforce.
"We look forward to the day when we can safely fully re-open, re-employ our staff and pour a cold draught beer for our loyal patrons - hopefully that day is not far off."