Will new “hipster” hawker centres bring Singapore’s millennials back to eating at the humble hawker centre?
Experts, hawkers and younger patrons believe so, but stressed it was not enough to just offer cafe-type food.
In a bid to attract more young hawkers and customers, NTUC Foodfare announced recently that it would be opening the Pasir Ris Central Hawker Centre in November.
This hawker centre will combine traditional and modern cuisine, by filling its first floor with traditional hawker stalls while setting up a “hipster” area on the second floor for young hawkers to ply their trade.
There are other “modern hawker centres” such as Timbre+ in Ayer Rajah Crescent and Bedok Marketplace near Simpang Bedok, both of which have mostly “hipster” stalls.
Retail experts said that for such hawker centres to bring in younger crowds, they have to be about more than just the food, and must sustain themselves beyond the initial novel appeal.
They added that the atmosphere of a hawker centre has to be tweaked, since the appeal of cafes is mainly the ambience.
Singapore Polytechnic Business School senior lecturer Amos Tan said: “Consumer patterns need to be understood. It’s not just about offering cafe food in a hawker setting.
“The image of a hawker centre is still of a place that is dirty and hot, but offers a quick fix. It’s not a place to linger and chill.”
Younger customers go to cafes not just to consume good food, but to soak up the ambience, he added.
They also appreciate the aesthetics of the place and the food, more than how the food actually tastes, said Mr Tan.
“Because cafe consumption patterns and hawker consumption patterns are so different, you can’t just implant cafe food into a different setting,” he said. “But it’s worth a try”.
Ms Esther Ho, deputy director at Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Business Management, agreed.
“There must still be the cafe experience even if it is a hawker centre. It must be a place that is relaxing and that young people feel is “cool” to go to,” she said.
Young cafe patrons said affordable prices and innovative food concepts will attract them to these new hawker centres, adding that young hawkers are likely to understand their tastes.
Graduate Claire Chan, 22, said: “Hawker centres like the upcoming Pasir Ris one might draw people in because the young appreciate experimental concepts.”
Writer Lim Yuyan, 23, said cafe hoppers who enjoy trying new places and types of food might venture to these hawker centres if there are always new dishes to try.
Stallholders said these new hawker centres would help both young and old hawkers learn from one another.
Mr Sean Goh, 39, who owns Chop Chop Selections at Bedok Marketplace, said: “When you get young, creative entrepreneurs together, they can share ideas, recipes and experiences… It helps to ensure everyone sustains the hawker business together.”
Ms Agnes Tang, 69, who has run a drinks stall for 20 years, said: “It’s good to have young people coming in because one day, the old hawkers will retire, and then who will take over?
“The Pasir Ris centre will also be good in bringing both young and old customers to one place to try different types of food.”
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