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As F&B establishments struggle to find customers during circuit breaker, S’poreans rise to support

SINGAPORE — A large plate of chai tao kway (fried radish cake) from Carrot Cubes costs S$4. After deducting the food delivery commission and other miscellaneous costs, the stall’s 32-year-old owner Claire Huang is left with barely any profit.

Mr Darren Teo of 51 Noodle House and the fruit juice vendor whom he has helped, by offering her drinks as an option for his customers, in an undated photograph.

Mr Darren Teo of 51 Noodle House and the fruit juice vendor whom he has helped, by offering her drinks as an option for his customers, in an undated photograph.

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SINGAPORE — A large plate of chai tao kway (fried radish cake) from Carrot Cubes costs S$4. After deducting the food delivery commission and other miscellaneous costs, the stall’s 32-year-old owner Claire Huang is left with barely any profit.

“Hawker food is always seen as cheap and good,” said Ms Huang, who runs the stall with her father at the Cheng San Market and Cooked Food Centre. Her father puts in a lot of work into hand-making the radish cakes, she added.

“If you charge more, people will tend to make noise,” Ms Huang said.

Having to pay the delivery fee, which eats away at earnings, is a common gripe among hawkers who can offer only takeout or delivery during this circuit breaker period.

The commission taken by delivery platforms such as GrabFood, Foodpanda and Deliveroo typically ranges from 30 to 35 per cent, according to hawkers TODAY spoke to.

In response to TODAY’s queries, GrabFood said it is waiving commission for self pick-ups during the circuit breaker. Foodpanda is not taking commission for the first month for new vendors who sign up between April 9 and May 4, and onboarding, or registration, fees which range from S$100 to S$160 are also waived. Deliveroo said it waives up to S$360 of onboarding fees.

To help defray some costs, Enterprise Singapore announced what it called a Food Delivery Booster Package on April 4 to assist food and beverage businesses by offsetting 5 percentage points of the commissions charged by Deliveroo, GrabFood and Foodpanda for orders delivered between April 7 and May 4.

This was later expanded to cover businesses not on board the major food delivery platforms by allowing them to save 20 per cent on their delivery costs if they fulfil orders through third-party logistics firms.

Mr Darren Teo, who has two businesses at Yishun Park Hawker Centre, welcomes the assistance but he said that the 5 percentage point cut will not help much if the hawker has “very low traffic to begin with”.

“Some food types are just not for takeaways, or rather best eaten on the spot,” added the 30-year-old founder and co-founder of Seafood Pirates and 51 Noodle House, respectively.

Mr Teo said the trouble with relying on deliveries handled by a third party, as compared to the three main food delivery platforms, which he uses, is the lack of an established customer base.

LOGISTICAL ISSUES

For restaurants located in the heart of the city, signing up with the three main food delivery platforms has its limitations.

Ms Chitra Mirpuri, whose Shahi Maharani North Indian restaurant at Raffles City Shopping Centre is on GrabFood, lamented that the platform she chose has a limited delivery radius of two to three kilometres — a feature shared by its counterparts.

The 44-year-old said her customers are now working from home and they live outside of the radius. To reach them, she has relied on delivery riders who are willing to do islandwide deliveries.

These days though, it has been getting harder to find such riders, so she has been turning to courier service drivers who charge between S$16 and S$20 in delivery fees. These are additional costs which Ms Mirpuri said she had to absorb as she had promised her customers a flat delivery fee of S$8.

Another downside, as pointed out by Mr Teo, is that older hawkers may not be as technologically savvy to use these delivery platforms.

On his part, Mr Teo said he has been helping a fruit juice vendor sell her drinks by offering them as an option for his customers.

“For these hawkers who are not on a delivery platform, or do not have a social media account, there is no way for customers to reach them without walking into the hawker centre,” he said.

HAWKERS UNITED

Now help has arrived in the form of several ground-up initiatives.

One of them is the Facebook group Hawkers United - Dabao 2020, where hawkers can advertise their menus.

It was created on April 3 by Jin Ji Teochew Braised Duck & Kway Chap hawker Melvin Chew.

A second-generation hawker, the 42-year-old said the total sales at his Chinatown Complex stall has been halved since the health crisis started.

But he knew he was not alone, and he wanted to do something for fellow hawkers.

“I wanted to do something where F&B operators could get their customers from somewhere and get sales during this period,” said Mr Chew.

As of April 11, there are now more than 187,257 members in the group.

On Telegram, there is a group called Sovereign Riders Singapore — a collective of ad-hoc delivery riders and drivers.

This is where F&B operators can match up with Singaporeans looking to earn some money by doing deliveries.

The creator of the group, Mr Jamie Lim, is a 43-year-old entrepreneur who founded Sticky Singapore, Joo Bar, 8 Korean BBQ and Juju Coffee.

This informal channel, he said, “cuts out the middleman” and it is entirely between the operator and the deliveryman to negotiate on an appropriate fee. Mr Lim recommends S$8 to S$15 per trip, though it could be much lower if a customer’s location is nearer.

While it sounds like a viable option for restaurateurs like Ms Chitra, for Mr Teo of Yishun Hawker Centre, it is a no go.

The price of the food he sells ranges from S$3 to S$5 per item, and he reckons that the delivery charges would not be worth it for someone who would not order much.

Then, there are individuals such as Ms Diana Liew who has offered to do deliveries for free.

“My parents are hawkers in a local army camp, so I know how hard it is for them to earn a buck or two,” said the 32-year-old.

Ms Liew, who said her day job provides her with flexibility, recently advertised her services on Delivery United, a Facebook group which describes itself as “for hawkers with food to deliver or delivery guys who can deliver”.

In her post on April 10, Ms Liew said she was offering “free delivery to help struggling hawkers that can’t afford to pay for delivery charges”.

She told TODAY that the S$600 she is set to receive from the Solidarity Budget would be enough to cover her petrol cost during the circuit breaker period.

“It’s my way of giving back to society, to people who have helped me and to those people out there waking up in the wee hours of the morning and working till late at night,” she said.

Related topics

circuit breaker Covid-19 coronavirus hawker food delivery F&B

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