Circuit Breaker Anniversary Edition

Let’s order in

Les Amis Group opened a cloud kitchen in Serangoon Garden housing five brands. PHOTO: LES AMIS GROUP

With dine-in banned during last year's circuit breaker, ordering in quickly became the norm, especially when special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries could be celebrated only at home on a smaller scale.

Food delivery companies got off to a rough start as they struggled to cope with a surge in orders during Mother's Day in May. Eateries struggled to find drivers and orders were late or cancelled.

But over the last year, as demand for food delivery continued to grow - boosted by limits on social gatherings - operators have become better poised to cope with deluges during holidays and festive periods. More people are also using delivery services for gourmet gifting.

A Deliveroo spokesman says it saw a surge in orders during key holidays last year - such as a 40 per cent rise on National Day and a 57per cent increase on Hari Raya Puasa - compared with the same period in 2019.

Grab observed an increase in demand for seasonal items such as mooncakes, durian and Chinese New Year goodies. One customer spent more than $500 on bak kwa over two orders, a spokesman says.

For Chinese New Year this year, restaurant chain Si Chuan Dou Hua hired taxi drivers to boost its delivery fleet.

Another chain, Peach Garden, set up a logistics team of four to eight staff at each of its five outlets to focus on packing, route planning and delivery for takeaway orders.

The Sunday Times reported in February that takeout orders grew by 30 per cent for the Paradise Group, while dine-in demand dropped by about 15 per cent.

The group's restaurants, which include brands such as Taste Paradise and Paradise Teochew, sold almost 20,000 portions of yusheng for delivery and takeaway.

Food delivery served as an extra revenue stream for hawkers and food and beverage owners during Covid-19.

About 2,000 restaurants have joined Deliveroo since the start of the pandemic, while Foodpanda accelerated the onboarding process for new restaurants from five to three days.

Muscling in on the scene is airasia food by Malaysian budget carrier AirAsia, which launched last month.

The growth of the delivery sector has also spawned more cloud or ghost kitchens, as well as deliveryonly virtual brands.

Establishments such as the Les Amis Group and Select Group now operate their own cloud kitchens.

Kitch, Les Amis' cloud kitchen in Serangoon Garden, houses five brands - including the popular Mui Kee Congee and Peperoni Pronto, a delivery and takeaway offshoot of Peperoni Pizzeria.

Food service provider Select Group has invested $10 million as part of its grand target of rolling out 20 cloud kitchens over the next five years in the heartland.

In February, the group launched its first kitchen in Jalan Mas Puteh with its own brands such as Hong Kong Sheng Kee Dessert, Lerk Thai and Pho Street.

Next month, it will open its second kitchen at Tampines Mart, with brands such as King of Fried Rice, San Pin Pao Fan and Waa Cow!. Other locations in the pipeline include Ang Mo Kio, Punggol, Sengkang, Serangoon, Choa Chu Kang and Jurong West.

Then there are hybrid models that bridge the gap between dinein and delivery.

Soft-launched four months ago in River Valley, Culture Spoon is branded as a "co-working kitchen" for budding chefs and home-based business owners to work in a commercial space. It offers dine-in, delivery and takeaway.

The 12 brands on board include Wok With Man, which serves Thai food, artisanal bakery Cultured Bakeyard and Dumpling Republic.

For many businesses, food delivery and cloud kitchens are longterm investments, as ordering in is here to stay.

The pandemic forced Mr Ernest Ting, third-generation owner of the popular Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant in Jalan Besar, to digitalise and re-engineer its business model.

Delivery now makes up about 20 per cent of its revenue, and it opened its first cloud kitchen at Tampines Food Co in November last year.

There are plans for more kitchens and new outlets.

Mr Ting, 30, says: "We see delivery as incremental revenue and it has become an engine of growth accelerated by the pandemic. We will continue to grow the delivery business, which is more scalable than dine-in."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 11, 2021, with the headline Let’s order in. Subscribe