SINGAPORE: Retailers and food and beverage (F&B) outlets should ensure there is enough space in between customers lining up in queues, encourage them to use self-checkouts and limit the number of shoppers within stores. 

These are some of the new safe distancing measures announced on Friday (Mar 20) to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Multiple government agencies including Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) have drawn up a list of safe distancing measures establishments should roll out to provide a safer shopping and dining experience. 

Punitive measures could be taken against businesses that refuse to follow the guidelines. 

In an advisory sent to tourism stakeholders, STB wrote that it will “report any non-compliance to the relevant regulatory authority for appropriate action”.

“Tourism stakeholders which do not implement or comply with the Government’s safe distancing advisories may be ineligible for government grants and loan assistance,” it added.

ESG said separately that surveillance teams will be on the ground to do regular checks, and work with the businesses who need guidance on implementation. 

Posters up on KOI’s NEX outlet on they are helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19. (Photo: Rachel Phua).

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Here are some of the measures retailers, ranging from boutique stores to supermarkets, should put in place:

  • Space out the queuing of shoppers (at least 1m apart) for fitting rooms and at cashiers.
  • Use floor markers to mark queuing positions for shoppers.
  • Encourage the use of self-checkouts, and cashless or contactless payment to speed up the processing of payment and reduce cash-handling.
  • Limit the number of shoppers within the store to allow for at least a metre spacing between them, where possible. This can be done by letting shoppers into the store progressively.

For F&B operators, they should:

  • Reduce the number of people gathering outside the outlet by putting in place queue management solutions. These include taking down diner details and calling them when there are seats available.
  • Clearly mark queueing areas and space customers out in the queue (if queues are unavoidable), at a safe distance of at least one metre apart.
  • Incorporate mobile ordering and payment solutions so that diners can order and make payments directly without having to wait at the cashier.
  • Install pre-ordering solutions for F&B kiosks to minimise physical clustering of customers waiting to pick up their orders.
  • Ensure a distance of at least one metre between tables or different groups of diners, although related diners (e.g. family members, couples) can be seated together without staggered seating

These safe distancing measures supplement the sanitation and hygiene practices recommended under the SG Clean campaign launched earlier in February, which include access to hand sanitisers, removing product testers and samples that require customer contact and frequently disinfecting common spaces, the agencies said in a media release.

As for hawker centres, the National Environment Agency and town councils are marking out seats to guide patrons where to sit to maintain a safe distance from others, the agencies added. 

SHOPPING, EATING OUT WITH A “PEACE OF MIND”

Senior minister of state for trade and industry Chee Hong Tat, who visited several establishments at NEX shopping mall which had carried out the safe distancing procedures, said that these precautionary measures are “to give Singaporeans greater confidence and assurance to to protect our safety” as they go about their daily activities. 

(rp) Seah Kian Peng Chee Hong Tat talking at NTUC Fairprice

NTUC Enterprise Seah Kian Peng discussing the measures with Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat. (Photo: Rachel Phua).

When asked if the measures will affect businesses’ bottomline, Mr Chee said that though it could reduce the seating capacity at F&B outlets, it will give customers a “greater peace of mind”. 

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Representatives from the food outlets all said that they do not think the safe distancing measures will hit their margins badly. 

Food outlets at NEX which have put in place the safe distancing measures include COLLIN’S, Soup Restaurant, PUTIEN and KOI.

Soup Restaurant has reduced seating capacity to make sure diners sit at least a metre apart. Seats for those who are lining up outside are also spaced a metre apart.

Customers appreciate the gesture, though waiting time for a table has increased by 10 minutes during peak hours, said its head of marketing Irin Lau. 

Rather, Soup Restaurant’s overall business has dipped because fewer people are out and about, particularly at tourist hotspots like Changi Airport and Orchard Road, its managing director Wong Wei Teck said. 

(rp) soup restaurant reduce people at each table

Soup Restaurant’s NEX branch placed only two sets of cutlery on a table for four to make sure that diners are seated at least 1m apart. (Photo: Rachel Phua).

Since Wednesday, they have also started letting customers leave their numbers with the restaurant to be contacted when a table is ready, instead of having to wait in a line, she said. 

Similarly, at COLLIN’S, diners have also been able to leave their numbers with the staff rather than wait in line for a seat.

The restaurant, which can serve about 90 customers, has also removed about eight seats from their NEX outlet. 

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Other safe distancing measures it has introduced include having promotions on food delivery sites, and off-peak dining offers to spread the crowd out. 

These measures have affected profit margins by “a few percentage points”, Mr Jonathan Lim, the chief development officer of SF Group that runs COLLIN’s, said. 

COLLIN’s and Soup Restaurant said they will implement the measures at their other branches in the next week or so.

For stores with space constraints, Mr Chee said that they could explore other ideas that prevent transmission of droplets, such as putting up a barrier in between tables.

However, not all customers followed the guidelines. In queues, some stood closer to the people in front than what the tapes demarcated. 

(rp) not following orders at COLLIN's NEX queue

Tape has been used to demarcate where customers should stand, but some still refuse to follow it. (Photo: Rachel Phua). 

(rp) NTUC Fairprise aunties not following orders

Customers waiting in line at checkout in NTUC Fairprice also did not stick to the one-metre rule. (Photo: Rachel Phua).

While most diners complied when staff reminded them to stand apart, COLLIN’S Mr Lim said some – especially those in groups – refused to as they wanted to “hang together”. 

Chief executive of NTUC Enterprise Seah Kian Peng said that it “will take time for people to understand why you’re doing it (and) to get used to (it)”.

NTUC rolled out the measures at their NEX Fairprice outlet on Friday, and will do so at the other 147 supermarkets in the near future, he said. 

Their supermarkets have also started broadcasting messages in English and Mandarin every half hour to remind customers not to stand close to each other while shopping, he added.

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