You can make the Tissue Issue go away

My friends would know that I’ve been strongly against the use of tissue packets to book seats in food courts ever since it first cropped up years ago. Today, several letters were published in The Straits Times on the matter defending both sides of the story

Story on the Tissue Issue in the Straits Times, 28th Apr 2011

User defends tissue-booking culture

I HAVE always been puzzled by the complaints about booking foodcourt and hawker centre tables with tissue paper or packets (‘It’s uniquely Singaporean and very rude’; April 26).

Booking by tissue paper is the only functional and practical way for customers to dine at a foodcourt.

The issue is not about a lack of graciousness and politeness. No practical person in a crowded foodcourt would want to buy his food first – for example, a boiling bowl of noodles – before table space is assured.

If the patron comes with a group of people, one or more persons can reserve a table and most patrons usually accept such a practice. The problem arises when the patron is alone. The dilemma is, if she gets the food first, what happens if there is no table space? And if she waits till there is a table space first, who will keep a space for her?

Necessity is the mother of invention and thus, Singaporeans invented the tissue reservation system.

The crux of the matter is that all should agree on a first-come-first-reserved system, whether the reservation is done by a restaurant waiter putting a reserved sign, family and friends sitting at the table, or leaving a handbag or a packet of tissue.

The system should apply even if a patron dines with a group of family or friends. Everyone can order a meal simultaneously and hence finish their meal and leave faster so that others can use the table.

Ho Seng Beng

MR ADAM REUTENS-TAN: ‘Placing a tissue packet to reserve a seat is a flippant act of arrogance and egocentricity (‘An issue with tissue on road to graciousness’ by Mr Francis Cheng; April16). It sends the signal that the one who placed the tissue packet is more important than the one who is patiently waiting for a seat with food in hand. Hawker centres and foodcourts are public areas where it is first-come-first-use; there are no reservations. In fact, leaving a nondescript item such as a packet of tissue may actually constitute littering.’

MR ANTHONY OEI: ‘There is nothing wrong in reserving seats in foodcourts because we do make reservations elsewhere. When a diner finds an empty table at a foodcourt, he is entitled to it and stakes his claim by placing a tissue paper packet, his bag or other articles on it, while he orders his food. Of course, one should be gracious by sharing a table with other diners if one is alone and there is a seat or two to spare. Let us be tolerant and accept that it is all right to reserve seats in foodcourts and that it is not a rude act peculiar to Singapore.’

MR ARTHUR LIM: ‘Enforcement actions should be taken to stamp out such ill habits (‘The tissue issue that won’t go away’; April 28). Why not have a sign to say that the use of tissue packs to reserve tables is prohibited? In the case of a group or couple, one should stay behind so as to inform others, in a civilised manner, that the table is occupied. If one is there alone, there are others like him who are on their own and will wait for a vacant seat. The tissue-reservation habit has nothing to do with culture, but everything to do with being selfish and inconsiderate.’

MS THERESA LOO: ‘The reason this rude and anti-social behaviour is thriving is because we encourage it by not doing anything about it (‘An issue with tissue on road to graciousness’ by Mr Francis Cheng; April 16). I suggest that when we are looking for a table and see tables with packets of tissue on it, we should just gently push the packets aside, sit boldly, and eat our food. This is to show that reserving tables with packets of tissue does not count, is not a rule, and not Singapore’s culture. This is to teach those who are anti-social a lesson in courtesy and decency.’

MR PARRY TAN: ‘The article (‘The tissue issue that won’t go away’; April 28) had quoted someone as saying that she would throw away the tissue packets used to reserve seats. Think about the time wasted should one person in the group have to stay behind just to tell other potential diners that the seats are reserved. A high turnover would result in more seats being available for more people. If everyone were to substitute packets of tissue paper with bags or more substantial and valuable belongings, would this still be considered rude? A packet of tissue paper is a cheap and riskless form of collateral. It is as simple as that.’


I think the letters above save me the hassle of writing a long essay on how I feel. But here’s a quick summary anyway:

It’s not intelligent – a pack of tissue paper does not indicate ownership or identification. Anyone can claim that that pack of tissue was his/hers. And when it is thrown away (by cleaners or by other customers), the original owner cannot claim that it was there to begin with.

And for those who argue that it is less risky to use a pack of tissues versus their own handbags, you are already implying that you don’t need people to identify the importance and ownership of your seat reservation.

After all, if the pack is not valuable, I can throw it away for you right?

It’s not perpetuated by the lonely – unlike what Mr Ho Beng Seng claims, this action is more rampant among groups of people than those who are alone. It is herd mentality at its most ungracious, since they could have asked one of the group to stay behind.

So what happens if you’re alone and have no seat? Either get more friends or gently ask someone if you can occupy the empty seat at their table. I do that all the time and while it’s never fun to sit with strangers, I am visiting the foodcourt to fill my stomach and not be a social butterfly.

And to those in a group who say that reserving seats with human bodies wastes time and increases waiting times at the foodcourt, perhaps you can consider how more considerate it is if you can ask your friend to buy food for you so others can get their seats even faster.

Don’t like the food your friend is ordering for himself? Oh that’s your problem, I can’t help you there. But it still doesn’t give you an excuse to use a tissue paper and make yourself look ungracious and selfish.

Enforcement is unnecessary – Why waste taxpayers’ monies on hiring people just to stop this ungracious action when you can throw away the packets of tissues yourself? Stop having a crutch mentality if you really want Singapore to be a more gracious society, like the old song taught us : “There’s a role for everyone”. And you also make the cleaners’ lives easier.

The bottomline is that I will not hesitate to throw away any packets of tissue paper if I (or my group of friends) need a seat. Because I don’t know who could have possibly done such a silly thing.

Oh wait a minute.

Is throwing away such tissue packs ungracious in itself? An act of intrusion and rudeness against someone else’s system of equality? A disregard for other people’s feelings? Look at this issue both ways and the same arguments will appear, but I believe in the lesser of two evils to generate a greater good – a stop to such unclassy and illogical group behavior.

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