ALTERED STATES

Coronavirus: Help for hawkers to deliver food

Hawker Melvin Chew, owner of Jin Ji Teochew Braised Duck & Kway Chap stall at Chinatown Complex Food Centre, created the Facebook group, Hawkers United – Dabao 2020, to help fellow hawkers cope with the dining-out ban.
Hawker Melvin Chew, owner of Jin Ji Teochew Braised Duck & Kway Chap stall at Chinatown Complex Food Centre, created the Facebook group, Hawkers United – Dabao 2020, to help fellow hawkers cope with the dining-out ban.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

For the past few nights, hawker Melvin Chew has not had more than three hours of shut-eye.

The second-generation owner of Jin Ji Teochew Braised Duck & Kway Chap stall at Chinatown Complex Food Centre has been busy helping his fellow hawkers cope with the dining-out ban.

Mr Chew, 42, has been inundated with requests for support or advice since he created the public Facebook group, Hawkers United - Dabao 2020, on April 3 - the same day the Government announced circuit breaker measures.

The group allows stallholders to inform diners about their offerings, promotions and takeaway or delivery options. The platform has also been used by retailers of produce such as seafood and fruit.

Diners can also join the group to pre-order food. As of last Friday night, the group has more than 177,000 members.

Mr Chew also launched a website yesterday. It functions as a directory that splits the stalls into four zones (north, south, east and west) and re-directs users to the individual stall's post in the Facebook group.

With the initiative, he hopes customers will continue to support hawkers, many of whom have been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Chew's business has also suffered. His stall is in Chinatown and his customers are mainly Central Business District workers who are now working from home.

With no more than 15 walk-in customers a day, he now relies on food delivery platforms for up to 80 per cent of his sales as closing his stall is not an option.

"Should the circuit breaker period be extended, I will have to look for more drivers or do the deliveries myself."

Many other hawkers are also ramping up takeaways and deliveries, as more help for such businesses was announced last Thursday by Enterprise Singapore.

 
 
 

For food and beverage players that are not on delivery platforms Deliveroo, Foodpanda and GrabFood, the enhanced Food Delivery Booster Package will fund 20 per cent of delivery costs on orders fulfilled through third-party logistics partners such as Lalamove and Zeek.

The package, unveiled on April 4, provides funding for 5 percentage points of the commission charged by Deliveroo, GrabFood and Foodpanda for orders delivered between April 7 and May 4.

The food delivery providers are also pitching in.

Deliveroo will tweak its rapid payment service, to allow hawkers and restaurants to access money made from the deliveries in one instead of two weeks. The service will be available for at least the next three months, says a spokesman.

Foodpanda has teamed up with hawker food delivery platform WhyQ to offer up to 35 per cent off hawker fare, while GrabFood highlights its local F&B merchants on its recently launched Local Heroes section.

Online marketplace Carousell is allowing local F&B businesses to advertise for free.

Still, some hawkers are reluctant to fork out the commission fees for delivery providers. Those whom The Sunday Times spoke to say the fee eats up a third of sales.

One of them is Mr Chew Zhi Jie, 29, owner of Jiao Cai Seafood, which specialises in grilled seafood dishes. He says orders have also not increased during this period.

Business at his Yishun Park Hawker Centre outlet has dipped by 20 per cent, while his recently opened branch at Food Loft Coffee Shop in Woodlands Street 31 has seen sales drop by 50 to 70 per cent.

He says: "A business can't be sustained with only takeaway and/or delivery. The bigger ones can offer attractive islandwide delivery, but small businesses can't do that."

He now does his own delivery and offers free supper delivery with a minimum order of $30 to selected locations from 8.30 to 10.30pm.

Other hawkers continue to rely on regulars.

Mr Toh Hoi Yip, 63, owner of 115 Tang Shui stall, which sells hot Chinese desserts, previously used platforms such as GrabFood and WhyQ, but stopped for a year because it was "not worth it".

He has no plans to do delivery again, even in these times, when he is making less than 30 per cent of his usual weekday sales.

"I depend on my loyal customers. I can't just close and don't want to waste my ingredients," he says. "I'll just take it as having no pay for the month. We have to adapt day by day."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 12, 2020, with the headline 'Help for hawkers to deliver food'. Print Edition | Subscribe