SINGAPORE - Diners who mourned the loss of Coney dogs, curly fries and root beer floats can look forward to a new A&W flagship restaurant in Singapore, which is likely to open in the second half of next year.
While the American fast-food company could not confirm where the first Singapore outlet will be located, it did say diners can expect to find stores in key neighbourhood towns or regions, as well as commercial malls and in the Central Business District.
The stores, which will be halal-certified, will offer freshly-made root beer served in frosty mugs, burgers made with Australian beef, and other favourites such as its Coney Dog and fried chicken.
Indeed, Singaporeans' appeals on social media may not have gone unnoticed.
"A&W Restaurants receives daily requests via social media and other channels to bring the brand back to the Singapore market. To put this into perspective, hundreds of requests from potential franchisees are recorded each year," said A&W Restaurants' chief executive Kevin Bazner in an e-mail response to The Straits Times.
In fact, plans to return have been in the works for some time.
Mr Bazner said the group had been discussing its return to Singapore since 2011, when it took over ownership of A&W from Yum! Brands, an American fast-food conglomerate.
A&W Restaurants opened its international corporate office in Singapore last year. The group, which plans to use its flagship Singapore store as a training and incubation centre for the region, is looking for partners to open between five and 10 stores every year.
Mr Bazner said: "The Asean countries have a combined population of over 600 million people, which provides unlimited opportunities for growth. In addition to the immense brand recognition in the region, A&W Restaurants has a tenured leadership team that is based in Singapore as well as Malaysia for quicker franchisee support, coupled with a developed regional supply chain system in place."
Fond memories of A&W are likely to smoothen the road for the fast-food chain, which opened its first outlet here in 1968. It exited the Singapore market in 2003 because of global losses.
Sales executive Nadiah Lee, 41, is excited about the chain’s return. She said: “I have many fond memories of tucking into waffles and sipping root beer ice cream floats when I was growing up. Now, I can share similar moments with my children.”
However, an expert has cautioned that Singapore’s competitive fast-food dining scene may prove challenging for A&W, given its target demographic of younger diners, many of whom may be unfamiliar with the brand.
National University of Singapore Business School’s associate professor of marketing Lau Geok Theng said: “A&W’s brand awareness is weaker compared to McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King. It left Singapore in 2003, 14 years ago. Many young people who are the target audience of fast-food chains have never heard of A&W and those who have heard of the name may not have emotional links.”
He added that over the years, the uniqueness of A&W’s offerings that include waffles and Coney Dogs has waned. Other players have since stepped in to fill the gaps with similar items.
As of last month, A&W Restaurants had nearly 1,000 restaurants globally, with outlets in the United States, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Italy, Japan (mostly in Okinawa), Malaysia, Qatar and Thailand. About 30 per cent of all its restaurants are in South-east Asia.