Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Decline to Return Used Crockery & Trays

DEDICATED TO JAYA DEVI STANLEY

Since the Prime Minister's National Day Rally this year, there has been a concerted effort to get people to clean up after they finish eating at our coffee-shops. This usually involves returning the used crockery and trays you use to designated areas. I am not in support of this initiative.

Returning used crockery and trays is not difficult for my generation of Singaporeans, who had to do the same when we were in school or in national service. In fact, I used to do so judiciously until some 5 years ago.

Then, I had recently returned from England to take up a job in Singapore with a cooperative of the National Trades Union Congress. A new colleague invited me out to lunch.

After lunch, I cleaned up the table and was about to return the tray I had used.

My colleague yelled, "No, don't do that!"

I asked her, "Why? What's wrong?"

She then pointed to an elderly lady who was going round the eatery clearing the tables. She suggested, "If you do this, old people like her will lose their jobs. There'll be less for them to do and therefore less incentive for owners of such eateries to keep them employed."

I questioned my colleague, "Am I not help helping her by doing this?"

She said, "If you really want to help her, clean up the table and place all the things that you need to return or throw away on the tray. But let her take the tray from the table to where it should go. She will be more grateful to you as a person for helping her to do that."

Since that incident, I have followed my colleague's advice. The smile I get from elderly cleaners when I do as advised is an experience to be cherished.

The National Environment Agency, with food court owners and cleaning agencies, has now come out to argue that returning the crockery and cutlery one uses to designated areas will not affect the jobs of such elderly, since they will have other things do do.

Like many other diners and cleaners, I do not buy the NEA's argument.

A table that has not been cleared away leaves the greatest impact on the consumer. Many owners of eateries know this. They therefore undertake great efforts to ensure tables remain clear. It is not unusual for them to employ more than the usual number of cleaners during peak periods so that more consumers will patronise their eateries.

I agree that cleaners have other things to do but these other things can be done by employing more cleaners or getting the same cleaners to do the same during non-peak periods.

It is important here to also note how The Straits Times reported NEA's position on 7 October 2008: "The NEA, foodcourt owners and cleaning agencies have come out to assure cleaners - some of whom are elderly - that they will not lose their sources of livelihoods. The NEA, for example, says hawker centres will always require cleaners, so they will be redeployed to wherever they are needed, if necessary." (emphasis added)

Firstly, I noted, in particular, the absence of any indication of NTUC involvement or support to this initiative. Secondly, the key words in the above paragraph are "if necessary". Need I say more?

If you really wish to help a cleaner, do clean up the table you use and place all the things that you need to return or throw away on a tray. Let the cleaner clear the tray. When the cleaner comes to get your tray, thank the cleaner for doing so and watch out for that appreciative smile from him or her.

By doing so, you will not only be helping eateries to remain clean but also helping cleaners to retain their jobs. This way, we build not just a gracious society but a society that looks out for its needy.

Happiness,
Dharmendra Yadav

Please consider the environment - do you really need to print this?

20 comments:

Chee Wai Lee said...

Thanks for bringing this perspective to the table. It is customary in a college town where I am now for us to clear our own plates and trays.

In Singapore, if the establishment does indeed hire cleaners and people to clear tables, I will certainly follow your advice and try to make my tray easy to clear as opposed to clearing it myself or leaving the tray in a haphazard state.

paul said...

hi there,

you have brought up a very valid point. i do not buy the Government's arguement that the older works will still keep their jobs.

Like many singaporeans around my age, we are all tired of the lame reasons put up by the government.

Will follow your advise and do our part for our fellow singaporeans.

Cheers

Paul

Anonymous said...

i was thinking on the same wavelength with regards to this matter.

now what i am really hoping for is that the press catches up on this perspective so that we can have more coverage on the matter.

i have personally dealt with owners and bosses of eating establishments such as S-11, the managements are extremely cost conscious; and should such a trend of 'graciousness' catch up; i can only imagine how much less hiring such establishments will make

-ben said...

That only leads to hidden unemployment. The practice of returning one's trays all boils down to being well-bred and personal graciousness. Following that your line of reasoning, then perhaps Singapore should reprieve anti-littering laws so that there would be more jobs for road sweepers?

FWIW, the biggest threat to employment as table clearers / cleaners in food courts and hawker centers in Singapore is not customers returning their own trays, but PRC foreign talents. They can work harder, for longer hours, and for lower wages than the local old folks.

ketsugi said...

I'm fully in agreement with -ben here. This is rather roundabout thinking and does nothing to alleviate the situation.

A better situation would be that I clear my own trays, so that hawker centres and eateries don't have to hire cleaners and rental costs go down, which means meal prices go down. Lower prices means food is more affordable for everyone, including the needy. Alternatively, the savings in the meal prices can go to a national pension scheme allowing the needy to still get the money they need (without going through the middleman of the eatery employer) and yet not have to spend their days doing demeaning work.

Keeping old folks working, for whatever reason, is NOT something I would like to perpetuate. I'd much rather all of them be able to enjoy their retirement comfortably.

Jack said...

Ketsugi: That is a pretty situation, given an utopian world. What might actually happen in the real world is:

You return your own trays - Less cleaners hired. Establishment makes more money. Meal prices INCREASE due to "inflationary pressures and rising costs".

The pension scheme will NEVER materialise, and old and unskilled folks will retire and live on S$300 a month... or less.

Ben did raise a valid issue, but I think we shouldn't be buying our Govt's campaign to allow eateries to pass on the cost (or effort) of cleaning up to us, especially not with such weak reasoning.

Graciousness is an over-used term.

Anonymous said...

Going by the logic of this argument, we should in fact make the tables even dirtier so as to create more jobs for cleaners.

This analysis has disregarded the forces of both economic and social change. We should move with the tide of progress, both socially and economically. When the computer was invented, we did not ban it for fear that typists would become unemployed. Many of them retrained and took on new jobs, while the PC improves everyone's productivity.

Nonetheless, I agree that we should be nice to our cleaners and thank them with a gracious smile.

Twentyfour_sucks said...

Another way to look at this issue is : what about the prices of the food sold in food courts in relation to the cost of hiring cleaners? If a lot of ppl return the trays, and the food court management reduces the cleaning manpower by 20%, will the prices of your laksa, bah-chor mee, yong tau foo, etc. go down by 20%? The answer is clearly NO! So why should we be gracious when the food court management will be laughing its way to the bank?

beAr said...

In singapore, there has never been a time where clearning the trays at hawker centres and food courts is the "norm". not clearing the trays certainly has nothing to with not being "well-bred" or "gracious".

In addition, most of our hawker centres / food courts do not actively require us to clear our own trays. 1. In most of these places, there are no signs reminding customers to do so. 2. There are no racks for us to place our trays / clearly-marked dustbins for us to sort out our trash. Food courts that require patrons to clear their trays will usually have these two items in place (think IKEA food court).

I would support the original post's argument that we should keep our eating space clean; that to me is a sign of being "well-bred" and "gracious". there is no need to clear the trays, simply because THERE IS NO NEED TO! You don't clear your utensils in a restaurant, do you?

p.s. Note that I'm not making any arguments for whether the elderly should still work.. blah blah blah.. I'm just taking offence, and hence rebutting the aforementioned comment that not clearing one's tray shows that one is not "well-bred" and "gracious".

-ben said...

not clearing the trays certainly has nothing to with not being "well-bred" or "gracious".

Well, you are entitled to your opinion. Many countries, however, do engage in this practice. It is a mark of being gracious, and well-breeding to pick up after oneself.

In addition, most of our hawker centres / food courts do not actively require us to clear our own trays. 1. In most of these places, there are no signs reminding customers to do so.

Do you require signs reminding you to do everything? This is what decades of spoon-feeding has done to the population? There are hardly any signs reminding customers to return their trays in food courts and fast food outlets in Australia and USA, and yet customers return them. Hmm... Maybe... Maybe it has to do with graciousness?

2. There are no racks for us to place our trays / clearly-marked dustbins for us to sort out our trash. Food courts that require patrons to clear their trays will usually have these two items in place (think IKEA food court).

Excuses. Fast food outlets here have clearly marked dustbins. How many locals return their trays?

I would support the original post's argument that we should keep our eating space clean; that to me is a sign of being "well-bred" and "gracious". there is no need to clear the trays, simply because THERE IS NO NEED TO!>

FAIL.
Circular reasoning.

You don't clear your utensils in a restaurant, do you?

FAIL.
Non sequitur fallacy. The discussion is not about clearing and returning trays in restaurants.

I'm just taking offence, and hence rebutting the aforementioned comment that not clearing one's tray shows that one is not "well-bred" and "gracious".

Yes, some people are all in a rush to be offended these days, aren't they?

gooder said...

I fully agree with Yadav's proposal. NEA's proposal is not practical, they are just following up on an ARMCHAIR DECISION. If we return the trays, where do we put it, it would be a mess, unless there are sufficient trolley racks to hold them, it needs much space which we do not have.
I believe NEA should teach people not to eat like pigs, dirtying the table. I make sure, I do not leave a single grain of rice on the table that I used and never leave the used tissue paper on the table too. Instead of teach manners to our people, NEA is only parrotting afte r the the PMs speech.
Dirtying ones dining table shows that we lack graciousness in our society.

Anonymous said...

i think ben shows signs of being extremely intelligent and well-bred and i am in total agreement.

KH said...

Very nice article. I do that too. I don't understand how people can sit there and watch an elderly of the age of their own grandparents clear up their own eating mess in front of them. It's so awkward and wrong. Some people are worse, they give a disgusted look when the auntie is clearing up food crumbs on the table with bare hands. Come on...that mess came from you, remember?

By putting everything on the tray, we are doing them a favour and fully utilise the functionalities of the tray. Let's all do that.

beAr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
beAr said...

"Well, you are entitled to your opinion. Many countries, however, do engage in this practice. It is a mark of being gracious, and well-breeding to pick up after oneself."

FAIL.

Your implication that not clearing your tray in a food court is being ungracious or well-bred is misinformed, even though clearing your tray (in the correct way; see my later point about 2-3 paras down) perhaps indicate that you are being more "gracious" (also see below on why i place "gracious" in inverted commas). However, creating a mess when you eat is being ungracious.

Just because many countries engage in a practice does not make it "gracious". Whether some action is "gracious" or not does not depend on the quantity of people doing it. It depends on the action and the context. As I noted, it is usual in Singapore that food courts and hawker centres hire help to clear our trays/crockery etc. Hence, people don't clear their trays as there are people doing it for them. In this scenario, what you and I can do to help out is to leave our eating spaces clean so that the cleaners have a easier job.


"Do you require signs reminding you to do everything? This is what decades of spoon-feeding has done to the population? There are hardly any signs reminding customers to return their trays in food courts and fast food outlets in Australia and USA, and yet customers return them. Hmm... Maybe... Maybe it has to do with graciousness?"

FAIL

The customers return the trays because there are proper tray return points. These restaurants also do not hire people to clear the trays. Hence, patrons have to return the trays themselves. "Graciousness" stems from the situation.

If Singapore's food courts, hawker centres and fast food places stop hiring workers to clear our trays, we will also start to adopt the practice of clearing our own trays. But until then, it is not wrong to reason that since there are people clearing our trays, that we don't have to do it ourselves.

Accepting that just because other countries do one thing, that you must automatically follow suit, without considering the context - now that's being spoon-fed.


"Excuses. Fast food outlets here have clearly marked dustbins. How many locals return their trays?"

FAIL.

I do. And I see many locals do too. And I return the trays to workers at the bin point at food courts when i am not in a rush (but stop short of sorting out the different utensils myself as I don't know where to put what, and I don't want to mess up their system). There's a vegetarian restaurant in Chinatown that I frequent where they have clearly marked bins for putting various cutlery and crockery, so I help them sort out the utensils. Everyone who eats in this vegetarian restaurant does the same thing. I don't return the trays in big hawker centres such as Maxwell because I don't know where to return the trays to. The bottom line is that people change their actions because of context.

You may think that you are "being gracious" by returning your trays all the time, but don't forget that your wrong actions may cause more grief for the workers. A few years ago, a Mcdonalds' auntie told me once that she didn't care for people who "helped" stack up their trays on top of the dustbin after they cleared them, as they don't wipe the trays clean before stacking, and hence whatever sauces that get onto the trays, gets transferred onto the trays that gets stacked on top, creating more work for the cleaners.

Have you actually asked if the workers want help? Or did you merrily assume that BECAUSE you clear your tray, and BECAUSE that action led to a happy feeling of "graciousness" in your mind, that you are doing a good deed?

As you see, I've ACTUALLY CONVERSED with cleaners who worked in these places, and the general feeling is that while they do appreciate and thank people who help them with their jobs (of clearing up), ultimately that's their job scope and they don't actually think that they should skive on their jobs while people clear things for them.

"FAIL.
Circular reasoning."

FAIL

There is no need to clear the trays in food courts as there are people doing it for us. You want to "feel gracious"? Then keep your eating spaces clean, and maybe help with clearing your tray; HOWEVER, that does not mean that people who don't clear their trays are not gracious. Please understand our local context first.

"FAIL.
Non sequitur fallacy. The discussion is not about clearing and returning trays in restaurants."

FAIL.

Restaurants, food courts and hawker centres are just different grades of the same type of establishment; i.e. eating places. Good behaviour in one of this places remains as good behaviour in the rest of them. Good behaviour in a food court does not become bad behaviour in a restaurant, and vice versa. The difference stems from the various contexts in which these different eateries are placed, which affects your actions. If a restaurant / food court / hawker centre hire people to serve your food, you do not need to wait at the kitchen to collect your own food. If a restaurant / food court / hawker centre hire people to bring your bill and subsequent change, you do not need to queue up at the cashier to pay. Similarly, if a restaurant / food court / hawker centre hire people to clear your tray, then YOU DO NOT NEED TO CLEAR THE TRAY YOURSELF!

Again, just because you "feel" "gracious and well-bred" that you clear the tray yourself, does not mean that not clearing your tray means you are not gracious or ill-bred!


"Yes, some people are all in a rush to be offended these days, aren't they?"

Well, as you said, I am entitled to my opinion. Won't you be upset when someone comes up to your face and said that you are not gracious and ill-bred even though you have always tried to alleviate the work that workers at these eateries have to do depending on the various situations and contexts? And you have done so after actually talking to these people whom you want to help, instead of simply satisfying some inner, personal, spoon-fed notion of what "being gracious" is?

And you can stop with the smarmy comments such as the last line. It does not contribute anything to the debate. Thanks.

beAr said...

Asiaone has an article about tray-clearing other countries. Contrary to what -ben has written above, that "There are hardly any signs reminding customers to return their trays in food courts and fast food outlets in Australia and USA", the article seemed to suggest that these signs (and i mean "signs" here in both the typical "signage" sense, as well as spatial cues, such as the prominent placement of clearly marked dustbins for the different types of trash etc) do exist in the various countries, and they reinforce patrons' expectations that they themselves are responsible for clearing their own trays. Also note the comment about US food courts that no cleaners are employed to clear trays for patrons.

http://www.asiaone.com/Travel/Globe%2BTrekkers/Story/A1Story20081013-93243.html

-ben said...

Despite what the ill-bred rant (and pathetic imitation of "FAIL." Be original, dude!), more and more hawker centers and food courts are embracing the concept of cleaning up after yourself and returning trays -- check out this week's ST report on a food center in Zion Road going that way.

Spare me the "I talk with food servers" diatribe, beAr, I managed a coffee shop for a while. If you want to go that way, my experience still trumps yours.

In any case, it looks like you can't stop this positive change in Singapore. Go hibernate in your cave (and get your parents' poor suffering maid to clean after you).

-ben said...

Despite what the ill-bred rant (and pathetic imitation of "FAIL." Be original, dude!), more and more hawker centers and food courts are embracing the concept of having patrons cleaning up after themselves and returning trays -- check out this week's ST report on a food center in Zion Road going that way.

Spare me the "I talk with food servers" diatribe, beAr, I managed a coffee shop for a while. If you want to go that way, my experience still trumps yours.

In any case, it looks like you can't stop this positive change in Singapore. Go hibernate in your cave (and get your parents' poor suffering maid to clean after you).

-ben said...

From beAr's link:

It has become a habit I take with me when I return to Singapore. I clean up after myself to ensure that the next patron enjoys his meal in a clean environment as well. (Ganessan Suppiah)


When I'm back in Singapore, returning my tray will be second nature to me (Cheryl Heng)


Someone just exposed his parochialism.

-ben said...

"Visible racks mean easier tray return at food centre: Zion Road centre happy with rising number of considerate patrons"

More joining in

Goodness Gracious Me, the tray-return project by The Straits Times, is spreading:

Kopitiam will extend the drive to all of its 80 foodcourts, beginning with the one at the Singapore General Hospital, next year.

The National Environment Agency will extend the drive to all hawker centres and fast-food outlets from next year."

The Straits Times 6 December, 2008. Home. B1.


Someone just had a MASSIVE FAIL.

:-P