Acrylic table shields might be a regular sight at food and beverage (F&B) establishments when dining in is allowed again during phase two of the post-circuit breaker reopening.
At Thomson Plaza's Koufu foodcourt, 3mm-thick clear acrylic sheets will be installed at 50 tables to separate diners seated across from or next to one another.
Moove Media, the advertising arm of taxi giant ComfortDelGro Corp, said yesterday that it is sponsoring a month-long trial of these acrylic shields, which are similar to the plastic V-Shields currently trialled in 400 ComfortDelGro taxis.
The acrylic partitions are affixed to aluminium holders a distance above the table surface, so that cleaners can wipe the tables without having to remove the shields each time.
TungLok Group, which has 15 brands including Dancing Crab and TungLok Signatures, is also looking at similar prototypes for its restaurants.
Mr Andrew Tjioe, chief executive of TungLok Group, said: "The screens will be an added protection on top of other safety precautions. It's something that will help customers feel more at ease while dining in."
The company is currently looking at acrylic partitions with a timber frame, standing about 1.8m tall.
Mr Keith Chua, vice-president of the Restaurant Association of Singapore, noted that clear dividers have been used by eateries in other countries as a way of separating diners and tables.
"If such an approach proves to be an adequate safe measure, it could allow for more seating while preserving a safe environment," he told The Straits Times.
While the guidelines for dining in have yet to be worked out, operators will have to factor in extra costs to ensure hygiene and safety standards are met, he said.
Delivery and takeaway will likely remain a key revenue source, as safe distancing measures will necessitate reduced capacity, said Mr Chua. One way that eateries can compensate for this is to extend lunch and dinner services to accommodate more turnover of tables, he added.
Ms Nagajyothi Mahendran, director of Samy's Curry, said she is looking forward to welcoming diners to the Dempsey Road restaurant soon.
However, she has concerns about how strict the rules for dining in will be, and how viable operations will be under the rules.
Safe distancing measures before the circuit breaker, when restaurants were required to leave alternate seats empty, had already reduced capacity by about half, said Ms Nagajyothi.
It is unclear whether this will be further reduced, and how new rules regarding mask wearing will be enforced, she said.
ST understands that the current guidelines by government agencies will be updated soon.
Ms Nagajyothi said: "When people dine in, they tend to hang around and chit-chat. So we're wondering if there will be guidelines on that, whether they have to wear a mask while waiting for food to be served and whether there will be restrictions on how long guests can spend at the restaurant."
She added that she hopes restaurants can be given at least a week's notice to be able to stock up on supplies and prepare for reopening, unlike the four days they were given to shut.
Mr Raymond Khoo, owner and executive chef of The Peranakan, said that he is unsure if he will open his Claymore Connect restaurant during phase two.
"We will need to have staff on two shifts again for lunch and dinner, which might not be cost effective if seating capacity is limited. Our staff are also cautious about what the infection rate will be like, so we are not sure if we want to risk exposure by resuming dining in even if it is allowed in phase two."