Restaurants, hotels, shops and bars serving food are hoping for a festive spending flurry of up to £80m, with tables at one Michelin-starred venue selling out within minutes.
Restaurateurs and hoteliers have been preparing to welcome back customers on Friday after nearly two months of closure.
But with guidance on safe reopening not published until around 4pm on Thursday, some may have felt it came too late.
Giving an update on the pandemic on Thursday, Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said: "We know how difficult this has been for the hospitality sector. They have been the worst-hit.
"It's challenging. We've tried to mitigate it, but we can't replace all the financial loss which has been suffered."
She and First Minister Arlene Foster warned people to limit their social interactions between now and Christmas and during the new year.
Mrs Foster said: "We have made provision that people can get together over Christmas, but they should do so in a safe way.
"Just because we say that you can doesn't mean you have to - and that's key."
Belfast restaurateur Michael Deane said availability in his five restaurants was now limited to just a few lunchtimes.
December tables at his Michelin-starred Eipic restaurant sold out within 15 minutes, with the business enjoying a profile boost from head chef Alex Green's participation in the BBC's Great British Christmas Menu.
Mr Deane said it looked "pretty healthy across the board" in most of his eateries.
"Eipic booked out in 15 minutes for December. That was no problem because of the TV profile of Alex Green," he added.
"We usually trade very heavily in December. It's the cash cow to get us through to Valentine's Day, but we're just not going to have that this year."
OX, another fine-dining establishment with a Michelin star, also reported strong demand, as did Belfast restaurants Hadskis and James Street.
Elsewhere, afternoon teas have been proving popular, with the Ross Park Hotel in Ballymena sold out on Friday, as are other luxury hotels in Belfast.
In Londonderry, meanwhile, Ciaran O'Neill, managing director of the Bishop's Gate Hotel, said demand was healthy, with just one or two rooms left for this weekend - and strong take-up for the rest of December.
Mr O'Neill explained that the hotel had tweaked its business model to deal with the rules.
"It won't be Christmas parties or office parties but bedroom sales and small tables of two households having dinner together," he added.
Grant Thornton economist Andrew Webb said he anticipated strong demand in Belfast on Friday and Saturday.
He added that it may be tempered with caution because people will not want to jeopardise their family celebrations.
"The hope is that trade will be like a traditional Boxing Day, which can see upwards of £20m going through the tills in Belfast," he explained.
Mr Webb also stressed that with the city accounting for about a quarter of retail and accommodation in Northern Ireland, the reopening of hospitality and shops could result in a total spend of around £80m.
"We'll have to wait and see if a festive flurry grips the city or if people maintain a cautious approach in order to protect their own Christmas plans," he said.
"On balance, I'd expect to see brisk trading, with Saturday more likely to be the busier of the two days."
Janice Gault, the head of the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation, said it was positive that hotels were reopening, but it was still not a normal Christmas.
"Bookings have been relatively good in terms of rooms and dining," she added.
"Social distancing and other measures have significantly reduced capacity and there will be none of the traditional Christmas party trade. However, it is important that hotels trade and have an opportunity to create some much-needed income.
"The sector has invested more than £5m in ensuring compliance and mitigating risks and will continue to trade in a responsible manner."
Martin Murphy, the co-owner of Belfast restaurant Howard Street, said planning was hard.
"We'll probably have a decent weekend, but from the point of view of a typical Christmas, it's not great. I suppose it's as good as it can be," he added.
Pedro Donald, the owner of Belfast pubs the Sunflower and The American Bar, said rules around wet bars meant he was unable to reopen.
"Last time we were advised to invest in an outside area, so we spent £30,000 on that, though they're now saying we can't (open). We're being run by a bunch of jokers, incompetent fools the lot of them," he added.
In Londonderry, Alison Canney said she was ready to open the doors of her Italian restaurant Spaghetti Junction, but was expecting to have to close again in two weeks, with a further lockdown anticipated if infections rise because of get-togethers.
"I am just going to have to write this entire year off because even though we will open, we cannot do anything close to the 140 or 150 covers a night we could be doing if there was no pandemic," she added.