Recently, the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) has published a study titled “The Cost of Eating Out: Findings from the Makan Index 2.0″, which surveyed the cost of eating out in Singapore’s hawker centres, food courts, and kopitiams.
The study found that the average cost of breakfast is S$4.81, lunch is S$6.01, and dinner is S$6.20. Each meal comprises a food item and a drink. When adding up all three meals, an individual spends an average of S$16.89 if they eat at hawker centres, food courts, and kopitiams.
The Straits Times (ST) listed out the most expensive lunch and dinner meal was found to be in Queenstown, where an iced Milo with chicken briyani costs around S$14.90, and in Tampines, an iced Milo with chicken briyani or chicken chop costs around the same price.
Many hawkers have developed long-standing relationships with the local community, who may be loyal to them not just because of the quality of their food but also because of their personal connections.
Makansutra founder Kf Seetoh also expressed his disappointment over how the study only focused on people’s food expenses without considering the hawkers’ cost of doing business.
Hawkers hesitant to increase their prices, fearing loss of customers
Despite the inflation, most hawkers are hesitant to increase their prices, fearing the loss of customers to competitors and drawing criticism from the public.
Some hawkers voiced worry that increasing the prices could risk damaging these relationships and losing loyal customers.
There is an active discussion on the social media platform Reddit, with some netizens supporting the idea of hawker food prices being raised due to the impact of inflation and rental hikes.
‘Unable to retire due to higher cost of living’
One Redditor expressed his concern over the tight squeeze on hawker profit margins, with some even struggling to break even.
He also noted that many of these hawkers are at a stage in life where they should be able to retire, but are unable to do so due to the higher cost of living.
“It saddens me even further that these aunties and uncles majority are at a stage where they can retire, but they can’t due to higher cost of living,” the Redditor commented.
The Redditor shared a story of a hawker friend who had to shift to an NEA-run hawker centre due to a 30% rent increase by their previous landlord.
“Worst part of all, the stall next to her, I heard that their rent increased more than 30%, and recently their food prices goes up from 3.5 > 4.5 for a bowl of fishball noodle.”
Another Redditor pointed out that Singaporeans are fortunate to have access to affordable hawker food despite the rising costs of ingredients, energy, and rent.
He noted that hawkers work hard and are poorly paid, and that people should appreciate the convenience and affordability of hawker food.
‘Soaring rental prices’
A comment in the discussion thread highlighted that the key issue here is the soaring rental prices. He noted that some Coffeeshop groups are known to bid super high rents, and government agencies raise hawker rents to be in line with the “market rate”.
The comment also echoed the urge by Makansutra founder Kf Seetoh, who called the policymakers to get rid of the “highest bid for public hawker stalls” practice.
The Singapore’s famous food critic said government builds hawker centers with public money to protect micro food business operators and keep food prices low. However, they make hawkers bid for stalls and tell them to keep menu prices low, which leads to desperation and greed.
A Redditor shared a personal experience of their mother running a food stall for 20 years and the struggles they faced in raising prices due to concerns of losing customers and diminishing margins.
“She did raise eventually and told the rude patrons to find food elsewhere, if they are really unhappy about it. There’s really nothing we can do.”
A comment agreed to push for legislation to regulate the rental to hold them accountable for high hawker centre rents:
Several other Redditors also agree that it is important for people to be considerate towards hawkers facing rental hikes, and not ask them to bear the cost of subsidizing the cost of living for poorer Singaporeans.
Hawker forced to throw in the towel as rental hike becomes unsustainable
The concerns from the Redditors did not come from nowhere.
Indeed, Bloomberg reported in January that Singapore’s hawker food inflation hit a 14-year high of 8.1% in December 2022, with many hawkers being forced to increase their prices to keep up with the high rental costs.
This has hit those on lower incomes particularly hard, as hawker food is often a necessity for them.
In November last year, 8world, Singapore Chinese media reported that at least 15 stalls were vacant in the bustling Amoy Street Food Centre.
Many young hawkers there closed their stalls after a few months, due to a high starting rent and being unable to generate enough income to make ends meet.
When asked for comment, Some stall owners suggested that former coffee shop vendors overbid on their rental prices and were unable to sustain their stalls in the long run.
According to National Environment Agency (NEA)’s website, there were three successful bids in August 2022 for Amoy Street Food Centre, which ranged between $3,200 to $3,633.
The highest monthly rental bid ever received for the food centre’s stall was $4,988 back in 2018. The second-highest bid came this February for $4,688.
Hawkers have to submit monthly rental bids during NEA’s monthly tender exercises to secure a stall there, Stalls are awarded to the highest bidder.
In June last year, two coffee shops in Yishun and Tampines changed hands for over record-high S$40 million transaction, which shocked the entire city state.
ST reporting that some tenants were thinking about terminating their agreements following a surge in rent after the coffee shop in Tampines changed hands for $41.68 million.
As for the coffeeshop at Yishun, 8 World News reported that at least 10 of the 14 stalls have thrown in the towel and left.
Earlier this year, Chinese media Shin Min daily news reported that a delivery-rider turned hawker threw in the towel after two years of running a rojak stall. He had been earning only S$400 a month after deducting the stall’s rental and other costs.