Monday 26 July 2021

From flow chart to no dine-in apocalypse: Table for one, please?

Remember just over a week ago when the Government announced that for dining in, the maximum group size would be reduced from five to two because of the resurgence of coronavirus cases in Singapore.


Groups of up to five might be allowed depending on whether you were vaccinated, from the same household, under 12 years old or could down 10 bowls of curry noodles in one sitting.

There were more permutations than variants of Covid-19 and Loki. You needed a flow chart and a stiff drink.

It was so mind-bogglingly convoluted that some restaurants such as McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Subway, Long John Silver’s, Toast Box and Nando’s said screw it, we would just limit it to two people.

That lasted like three days.

Oh, were the rules too complicated for you snowflakes? Now the Government has made it simpler for everyone.

Vaccinated, unvaccinated, same household, different households, children, no children, pets, don’t care. How many diners? Zero.

Any questions?

What a rollercoaster ride it has been for the F&B industry this month.

Or year. When 2021 started, the number was 8. Then in May, it went down to five.

People were grumbling that they couldn’t celebrate Mother’s Day properly.

Today, we would sell their mothers to get back those days again as a week after Mother’s Day, dining in was banned altogether.

We had to do take-outs for Father’s Day, getting the shorter end of the stick as usual.

When July started, the number was two. Then up to five. Then it was down to two again but five if you have the right combination. Now it’s back to zero.

Pardon the whiplash.

Some blame the KTV joints. Some blame the dirty old men. Some blame the Government’s oversight and/or the lack of it. I blame the Japanese for inventing karaoke.

But instead of playing the blame game where everyone loses, I believe it is time for a new idea. Or perhaps the revival of an old one?

On May 25, in the midst of the post-Mother’s Day dine-in ban, The Straits Times published a letter from reader Cheng Shoong Tat suggesting that we resume dining-in with only one diner per table:
“In response to essential and front-line workers not having enough places to consume their takeaway food at, many malls are opening up their foodcourts and public places for this purpose.

“Only one diner is allowed per table, which must be placed at least 1m from the next one.

“By the same token, why not allow food outlets to resume dine-in service on the same basis, in addition to serving takeaways?

“Outlets that are able to rearrange their seating into single-diner tables at least 1m apart should be allowed to resume limited dine-in service in order to supplement their takings from selling takeaway food.

“This way, the impact of the recent Covid-19 measures on food outlets can be somewhat cushioned, while less takeaway waste is produced.”

While some, including me, liked the idea, many were against it, like the person who wrote this letter that ST published a few days later:
“It is not wise to allow one diner per table during this current period of heightened alert, as suggested by Mr Cheng Shoong Tat (Allow dining in to resume with one diner per table, May 25).

“It is acceptable to make an exception for essential workers, including delivery riders, who do need a place to eat - usually for only a short while.

“But if one diner per table were allowed for the community at large, there may be instances where diners continue to linger unmasked after having their meal.

“Furthermore, there could be a potential loophole when two family members or friends go out together for a meal. They might chat with each other while having their meal, even if they are seated apart.”
It’s an enforcement issue then?

Anyway, the idea became moot and fell by the wayside once dining-in resumed with up to two diners per table (better than one) on June 21.

But now that we have doubled back to the post-Mother’s Day zero dining-in apocalypse since last Thursday, the single-diner idea is worth revisiting as it offers some respite.

While it has been argued that it’s the removal of your mask while you are eating that is the issue regardless of whether it’s one or more diners, the way the Government has been playing yo-yo with the number of diners demonstrates otherwise.

If nothing else, you could finally eat alone in a restaurant without people feeling sorry for you because they think you have no friends.

Best of all, no flow chart required.

- Published in The New Paper, 26 July 2021