A hawker selling prawn noodles at the Tekka Food Centre turned to Facebook on Tuesday (30 Oct) to point out the irksome habit of customers complaining that the food is too expensive.
She pointed out that people who smoke, drink, splurge on cars, and take expensive vacations but also complain about the ‘high price’ of a $4 bowl of prawn noodles are irksome. And you know what, I agree! Others on Facebook agreed as well.
The hawker, Li Ruifang said that she has to cover the cost of five employees and feed her own family. Rightly so, she pointed out that she’s not there to do charity. She added, “to the social enterprise who want us hawkers to sell cheap, why should we think of the less fortunate? Isn’t it the government who are supposed to help them?”
Again, others agreed.
Earlier this year during a National Day Rally speech, PM Lee Hsien Loong said that one of the way the government will help alleviate the rising cost of living in Singapore is by managing the cost of food at by building more hawker centres. Specifically he said, “stalls in the new hawker centres are required to provide affordable food choices. Almost every stall will offer at least one economical meal option, priced at S$3 or less."
But how realistic is that when these hawker stall owners need to also pay their own staff, cover rent, food costs, and maintenance? Ruifang went on to say in the FB post, “don’t get me wrong, I still collect $3 from those cleaners. I still give out free noodles for a man who’s on wheelchair and ask for free food. But it’s not feasible for us to sell cheap to help these people right? How about us?”
How about them indeed. She noted the rising food costs, increasing water and electricity costs, and the hike in conservancy charges in the past 4 years that she’s been at Tekka Food Court. Rental isn't cheap either with costs hovering around S$3,500 in popular areas like Maxwell and around S$1000-2000 in less competitive areas, according to an analysis by iChef Pos SG.
And in an effort to keep costs affordable for their customers, hawkers end up bearing the most of the growing cost of ingredients and utilities. They have to earn that back via a bigger volume of sales - but that will be a struggle in less popular areas or if the people simply decide you're 'too expensive'.
A fellow hawker in the comments shared her own struggle with the covering the cost of setting up the stall every day.
And running a hawker stall is not easy work. It's heavy, backbreaking labour that requires an early start almost everyday and a late finish. Hawkers stand all day long in a hot kitchen, toiling away from the wee hours of the morning and dealing with belligerent customers on a daily basis. Many of these stall owners are also ageing as the younger generation would rather work behind a computer were they can make a higher income. Even the process of getting a stall and learning to manage it, keeping your offerings new and interesting enough to attract a steady stream of customers, and being able to offer both cheap and delicious food requires incredible commitment and effort - it's a dying art. But barely anybody notices just how tough the business is.
Ruifang ended her post with a plea to customers, “Please appreciate hawkers more. Please don’t take advantages of us. Take what you can finish and prevent wastage.”
Perhaps we should be a little more understanding about the plight of hawkers in Singapore. After all, they're trying to make a living too. If it's too expensive for you, then just don't eat there.