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Netizens express confusion over requirement for diners to wipe tables in hawker centres

A viral video capturing a dispute at Tekka Hawker Centre between a patron and two purported NEA officers has ignited widespread online discussion.

Some netizens believed the NEA only required tray returns and litter disposal, without the obligation to wipe tables clean.



SINGAPORE: A recent dispute between a diner at Tekka Hawker Centre and two alleged NEA enforcement officers over the particulars of new regulations for cleaning public dining areas has brought to light a potential discrepancy or misinterpretation in these rules.

In May 2021, the NEA mandated that diners in public places must clear their tables of used trays, crockery, and litter after meals, in line with Section 17(1) of the Environmental Public Health Act (EPHA).

Offences under this section could invite a range of penalties, including fines up to S$2,000.

As of 1 June 2023, first-time offenders who don’t return their used items will receive a written warning, second-time offenders will be slapped with a S$300 composition fine, and further offences could incur court fines.

A diner, identified as Pankaj, recently took to TikTok to recount his disagreement with two individuals purporting to be NEA enforcement officers regarding the regulations.

In the video, he challenged the two officers about the extent of the diner’s responsibility in cleaning the table, particularly concerning food or drink spillages.

While Pankaj believed the mandate only required diners to clear solid waste and return trays and utensils, the officers insisted that diners should also wipe the table clean of any spills.

The heated exchange between Pankaj and the officers revolves around the clarification and perhaps the ambiguity of the guidelines, “Are you saying to me that if I dirty the table, I am supposed to wipe the table?”

Pankaj was recorded saying. The officers affirmed, adding that it is indeed the responsibility of diners to ensure the table is clear and clean after their meal.

Netizens confused about requirement to wipe tables clean alongside tray returns

The viral video has sparked an influx of online reactions, leaving many netizens both surprised and perplexed by the extent of the cleaning obligations.

Interestingly, a review of previous NEA announcements and news reports, including a joint press release on 30 August 2021, reveals no explicit mention of the obligation for diners to wipe tables clean of spillages, indicating a possible miscommunication or misinterpretation of the regulations in place.

The NEA’s statement did mention that it constitutes an offence if a diner clears their tray and dirty crockery but neglects to remove items such as tissues, empty drink cans, and food remnants like shells and bones from the dining table. Furthermore, the NEA emphasized that allowing litter to be blown onto the floor in a public place without picking it up constitutes a littering offence.

Regarding situations where gravy or drink is accidentally spilled on the dining table, the NEA, as stated in the August 2021 press release, expressed a “pragmatic approach” to enforcement.

“NEA will not take enforcement action for such instances. As much as practicable, diners can help to clean the spilled gravy or drink and keep the table clean.”

Perusing various social media posts by Singaporean media outlets, it becomes evident that a significant number of individuals were under the impression that the NEA’s guidelines solely mandated the return of trays and the disposal of litter, without the additional requirement to clean up spills.

Encouraging consideration and cooperation among diners

Responding to a post on Mustsharenews‘s Facebook page, one netizen emphasized that the dos and don’ts on the NEA website are unequivocal, and the rules mandate the removal and disposal of litter from the tables, without specifying the need for wiping.

In the case of spillages such as gravy, a practical approach is expected, allowing cleaners to manage the cleanup.

Nevertheless, the netizen concurred that diners should indeed be more considerate, taking proactive measures to minimize spillages and litter on tables, as a gesture of respect and consideration toward the cleaners, who, like everyone else, have their own duties and responsibilities.

Language misstep possibly led to confusion

Furthermore, a netizen, referring to the NEA’s statement, emphasized that the NEA officer likely intended to convey the message of removing all forms of litter, including tissues, spilled food, and bones, which does not necessarily include wiping the table.

This indicates that the potential misunderstanding might have arisen from the specific language used by the NEA officer.

It was suggested that the officers could have phrased their instructions as “clear the tables of crockery, trays, and litter” to avoid any possible misinterpretation. However, the netizen might not have seen the part of the video where the NEA officer affirmed the clarification by Pankaj who asked if he had to wipe the table.

‘Illogical’ to ask diners to clean the tables after the meal

Meanwhile, another netizen argued that it is illogical to expect customers to clean the tables after their meals, contending that as long as the customer returns the tray to the designated area, the responsibility of cleaning and wiping the tables lies with the cleaners employed by the hawker mall.

Another comment observed on AsiaOne’s Facebook post, emphasized the necessity of applying common sense and understanding in certain situations. The comment also highlighted practical concerns, posing the question of what should be done if someone accidentally spills gravy without having any tissues at hand.

A netizen suggested that the officers should receive comprehensive training and education about their roles, particularly ensuring a thorough understanding of the instructions they give and the regulations they enforce.

Others believed that the two individuals presumed to be NEA officers might have potentially misinterpreted the rules.

They highlighted that these individuals should refer to the original regulations, which explicitly state the requirement to return crockery, utensils, trays, any food waste, and/or tissues to the centralized tray section after the meal.

It was emphasized that the regulation did not specify cleaning or wiping the table after the meal, even in cases where spills were left on the table.

Practical constraints highlighted as not all diners carry tissues for table cleaning

Certain comments highlighted that while the majority of diners can comply with the rule of taking their dishes and plates to the tray counter, some individuals might not have tissues or wipes on hand to clean the table.

This led to questioning whether the NEA might be inadvertently creating an additional source of confusion for diners with another rule to adhere to.

Commenting on AsiaOne’s Facebook post, a concerned netizen directed a question to the NEA, highlighting the issue of dealing with the mess left behind by previous diners. The netizen emphasized that it is unfair to expect individuals to clean to such an extensive level, especially considering that many people do not carry tissues with them.

This led to the crucial question of whether hawker centres should provide cloth, tissues, or cleaning solutions if they expect diners to assume this level of responsibility.

The NEA’s 2021 statement clarified that cleaners will assist in removing trays, dirty crockery and litter left behind by the previous diner, highlighting the importance of every diner to returning their trays and dirty crockery, and keeping the tables clean for the next diner.

Netizens comically suggest a ‘handing over guidelines’ for dining tables to subsequent diners

Some comments underscored the challenge of dealing with already dirty tables and questioned who is responsible for cleaning them.

They even mockingly suggested that this might result in a more intricate process of “handing over” the dining table to the subsequent diners, humorously proposing the issuance of takeover and handover forms for all diners before utilizing the dining facilities in the future.


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Might as well clean the toilet after every meal.

NEA is quota based mah. They must reach certain quota daily be it table etiquette or littering or some stupid infraction. Just so happen this time cannot catch anybody so this unlucky fella fell victim to the dogs. If I not mistake, NEA also have Bangala working for them.

Language misstep, … haha888hahaha in multi~lingual SillyPore with thee iconic and one of a kind homegrown Singlish thrown into the mix !!! C’mon lah, … really, seriously, … sure or not !!! Anyways, … this is progressive regulation. Progressively onerous and progressively ever~evolving !!! Tissue and wet wipes sales will enjoy a boost !!! Crux of it is, … it’s always down to the one with the “badge of authority”, … it’s down to his/her interpretation, as is precisely the working principles of this regime !!! Gotta take it on the chin, and, … wipe down that table lor and… Read more »

First, we must ascertain what is the stated law. In this case, there is no mention to wipe the table and if there were spills, a “pragmatic approach” should prevail. Furthermore, “NEA will not take enforcement action for such instances”. Below is the relevent section for clarity: “Regarding situations where gravy or drink is accidentally spilled on the dining table, the NEA, as stated in the August 2021 press release, expressed a “pragmatic approach” to enforcement. “NEA will not take enforcement action for such instances. As much as practicable, diners can help to clean the spilled gravy or drink and… Read more »

Dun need to wayang lah. Targetted Wayang Show. One show to rule them all.

This is what happens when a million$ idiot minister implement a stupid policy without thinking things thru just to meet her own KPIs. Sustainability program? Yes, need to sustain her own uselessness as a minister.

This led to questioning whether the NEA might be inadvertently creating an additional source of confusion for diners with another rule to adhere to…

inadventently? i’m sure not.

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in this case, dare NEA add a signage “clean and wipe your table.”?
i’m sure they dont.

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Lovely to see dogs barking at each other, go fuck each other cunt, after all is all dogs lives that matters in the fucking small island and yes, go ahead, make the day hay ( haze ) .. the choice is made for such regiment regime..nice….