S M Ong: Thanks to the pandemic, eating out is no longer a picnic
It was the first time I ate out in months because of the circuit breaker.
Even though I knew better, I reflexively took off my mask after taking my seat in the restaurant.
The hostess immediately rushed over and reminded me rather forcefully that I could take off my mask only after food or a drink had been brought to my table.
I was taken aback and chastened by her fierceness. She must have dealt with idiot customers like me too many times before.
Embarrassed, I apologised and quickly put my mask back on. I felt like a child scolded by my mother and deservingly so.
Looking back now, I might have gotten off easy.
Last week, the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment revealed in a news release: "On 25 September 2020, two patrons were fined $300 each for not wearing their masks when talking to each other at an F&B outlet in Orchard at 2.50am, even though they had completed their meal and their table had been cleared."
Talk about an expensive meal - a total of $600 plus whatever the two actually paid for the meal in Orchard, which can't be that cheap.
For that amount of money, they could have gone for a three-hour lunch for two in business class on an SIA Airbus A-380 double-decker superjumbo and maybe have enough left over for some pure Mao Shan Wang durian snowskin mooncakes with edible gold dust.
But what I really want to know is how the two people were caught.
Did a safe distancing ambassador just happen to stroll past the F&B outlet and spot them not wearing masks?
The ambassador must have stood there and watched them long enough to observe that "they had completed their meal and their table had been cleared".
But exactly how long is that?
As if that isn't creepy enough, this happened at 2.50am?
There are safe distancing ambassadors working at that time of night?
I mean, if some stranger is standing outside a restaurant and watching me eat at almost three o'clock in the morning, I would be lucky that it's only a safe distancing ambassador and not some psycho killer stalking me. Qu'est-ce que c'est?
Thanks to the pandemic, eating out is no longer a picnic. There are rules. One rule is keep your mask on except when eating or drinking. But how do you define "eating or drinking"?
Remember the hostess fiercely telling me that I could take off my mask once the food or drink arrived and nearly making me cry?
It seems that "eating or drinking" just means having some food or drink in front of you. You don't have to be actually stuffing your face.
Would those two people have not been fined if their table had not been cleared? Whatever they had left over on their plates could still count as food.
Or would simply having a glass of water in front of them (which they didn't even have to drink) have saved them $300 each?
I have seen people exploiting this "eating or drinking" loophole when they're not dining in. They could be walking outside without their masks on simply because they have food or a drink in their hand.
Disney World in the US closed this loophole by updating its policy to allow visitors to eat or drink only when they're "stationary".
I never thought I would say this, but maybe Singapore should follow Disney World.
The "mask on except when eating or drinking" rule is certainly ambiguous if not a little Goofy.