The Sunday Times says

A return policy worth tabling

Singaporeans scored passable grades bar one in last Sunday's informal assessment of cleanliness by a public health watchdog. The Public Hygiene Council passed Singaporeans for personal hygiene, disposal of litter and public restrooms. The council gave its sole failing grade for public apathy towards the returning of trays at designated stations in food centres. Singaporeans earned a dismal four out of 10 marks for not clearing up after themselves - to maintain table hygiene and to allow others to take their places without delay. The failing offers an insight into social behaviour. Singaporeans, it appears, adopt good habits only after these have been emphasised clearly, prominently, regularly and, perhaps, forcefully.

If that is the case, one should make tray returns an informal rule, enforced by peer pressure. Return practices should be standardised with the use of uniform signs and logos. And tray stations must be in convenient locations and not shunted to the side. Make them large and place them in a central zone. Prominence can amplify the message and persuade patrons subliminally that returning trays is integral to foodcourt etiquette.

Presentation is important too. Many tray stations look shabby, greasy and messy. It is hard for customers to square tray returns with cleanliness when the stations do not show it. The mess at stations attracts pesky birds and deters many patrons. Operators should instead reward conscientious customers by offering handwash basins near tray stations, together with soap dispensers and paper towels. When everyone chips in, it could be economic to deploy minders at tray stations so foodcourts can always look inviting - and not be marred by unsightly leftover food and drippings that attract only scavengers. When cleaners are spared back-breaking work, they might return the courtesies as well. All have a part to play in enhancing Singapore's foodcourt experience.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 15, 2016, with the headline 'A return policy worth tabling'. Print Edition | Subscribe