SINGAPORE - The McDonald's outlet at Canberra Plaza in Yishun is cheerfully decorated with pop colours and cartoon characters. But with dining in not allowed until June 13 under phase two (heightened alert) rules, it was largely empty and forlorn.
A few young boys who came in were directed, after scanning in and sanitising their hands, to separate standalone order kiosks where customers can see the menu, put in their orders and make payment.
The touchscreens are treated with Sdst, an antimicrobial self-disinfecting coating that is reapplied every 90 days. They are also sanitised every two hours.
After collecting their food, the youngsters left through an exit at the other end of the outlet.
These are among the measures and protocols imposed by the fast-food giant at all its outlets since April last year, when it suspended all restaurant operations for two weeks in response to a cluster of Covid-19 cases linked to its outlets.
These are now once again under scrutiny with a new McDonald's cluster that started with a delivery rider at its Bedok Reservoir branch on May 20 and spread to a housemate who worked as a rider for the outlet at the Pasir Ris Elias Community Club.
There are now 19 cases connected to the cluster. Eight are from the two McDonald's outlets and six are delivery riders and kitchen staff of Pizza Hut, who are close contacts of the early cases. The remaining cases are other contacts linked to the staff of the two chains.
McDonald's engages a third party, i-vic Logistics, to supply it with McDelivery riders, while Pizza Hut has a mix of full-time employees and third-party riders. A spokesman for i-vic Logistics said its riders work only for McDonald's.
Both McDonald's and Pizza Hut also work with food delivery platforms such as Grab, foodpanda and Deliveroo.
Both restaurant chains say they have not added new protocols after the recent cases because strict measures have already been in place since the circuit breaker in the middle of last year.
These include no cross-deployment of staff and delivery riders across outlets, temperature taking twice a day and constant hand sanitising. They also practise contactless deliveries and cashless payments.
What the two companies have done instead is to remind staff and delivery riders more frequently to follow the protocols.
This time, instead of shuttering all its outlets, McDonald's decided to close only the affected restaurants for two weeks.
"The situation last year was different because staff at the time were deployed across outlets," said Mr Benjamin Boh, general manager of Hanbaobao, the Singapore licensee of McDonald's. "But we have tightened all our procedures since then and our staff and riders work for just one restaurant. So when anyone is affected, we can quickly close the outlet and contain it. It's much more controllable."
Right now, four restaurants, including those in Woodgrove and Hougang Avenue 8 that have cases not linked to the cluster, are closed and all the staff are quarantined for 14 days.
Pizza Hut has the same policy and its three outlets connected to the cluster - at Punggol Plaza, Westgate and Havelock II - are closed.
Mr Boh added that 30 per cent of McDonald's employees have been vaccinated, and a spokesman for the company said all staff are encouraged to get their jabs. The i-vic Logistics spokesman said more than 80 per cent of its riders have been vaccinated and they have also been participating in swab tests for food deliverers.
The major delivery platforms could not say how many of their riders have been vaccinated because they are not full-time employees.
Mr Chua Teow Hock, director of operations for Pizza Hut Singapore, said the company is encouraging all eligible staff to get vaccinated as soon as possible. He added: "We have submitted the details of our front-line and delivery staff to Ministry of Health for assistance to expedite the vaccination process."
The Sunday Times visited a McDonald's outlet on May 27 and a Pizza Hut outlet on May 28 to observe their safety protocols:
Safety protocol at McDonald's Canberra Plaza
In the kitchen:
Kitchen staff follow a "stay-in-position" work system, with each person remaining in his spot, keeping a distance of 1m to 2m from one another. Cooked food from each station is left at a packing area and the packer does not enter the kitchen. Staff go on breaks one at a time.
Staff and delivery rider:
There is a separate packing area for deliveries, and the food is sealed after packing to reassure customers that it is not tampered with during the journey. Equipment used by riders is sanitised after each delivery.
A bigger outlet like Canberra Plaza has a room called a delivery cell where two McDelivery riders are allowed in at a time to wait in demarcated areas for orders to be packed. For smaller outlets, the cell is outside the restaurant.
Packed food is put on a counter and the riders collect it and leave.
Riders from other platforms are alerted to food that is ready through a number display system and collect it from a separate counter.
Staff and customers:
Walk-in customers for takeaway use a touchscreen to order and pay for the food. They then stand inside designated areas for the food to be ready before collecting it from a service counter. Those who want to pay cash collect the food from the cashier who stands behind a plastic shield. Hand sanitiser is provided on the counter.
Delivery rider and customer:
Cash payment is not accepted for deliveries. Contactless delivery is available, with the food hung on the gate or door.
Safety protocol at Pizza Hut Compass One
In the kitchen:
The two kitchen employees work in separate areas and change their gloves every time they move to another station. Food that is ready is left on a counter and another staff member takes it to the packing area and bags it for collection. Staff go on breaks one at a time.
Staff and deliverer:
The outlet does not employ riders but use two "walk-in delivery staff" who take the food to addresses nearby on foot.
Every staff member, including in-house deliverers, who enters the restaurant has to go through temperature checks, sanitise their hands and fill a digital form detailing health and recent movements. They must also wear approved masks, such as surgical masks and cloth ones with three layers.
Riders from other delivery platforms are not allowed into the restaurant. They are alerted when the food is packed and collect it from tables set up at the entrance.
Staff and customer:
Customers ordering takeaway scan a QR Code for the menu, order and pay. They go off and return to collect the food from a table at the entrance when it is ready.
Those who want to can order through the cashier and pay cash. A bottle of hand sanitiser is provided on the counter.
Delivery staff and customer:
For contactless delivery, the customer is alerted when the food arrives and is asked where the food should be placed. The deliverer keeps his distance to wait until the customer retrieves the food before leaving.