Chew on dilemma of eating spots

What's irksome about food haunts is that many want to have their cake and eat it. It bothers both food operators and customers alike. The former want a new spot to be pulsating with people within a short time, while the latter want it to be a "best-kept secret" for as long as possible. Packing in customers means more business for operators but the resulting parking woes can turn away people. A high concentration of eateries means more choices for foodies but having to fight for parking spaces leaves a bad taste in the mouth. This is all to be expected in a driven society.

An area that looks hip attracts start-ups fuelled by new ideas, with an eye on a boom down the road. Such growth benefits the locality, "foodpreneurs" and consumers in general (both those living near and far). What often comes down the street next is traffic congestion that spills into smaller lanes as well. Then, those left down in the mouth include residents who are forced to swallow changes to the character of a neighbourhood and grit their teeth over noise and dust.

Drastic steps to limit the crowds could shrink the critical mass and consequently lead to business migration to the next hip eating spot, where the cycle of frustration might repeat itself. Simply widening roads and building more carparks on an ad hoc basis might not be possible, given space restrictions, or desirable - if such plans do not dovetail with a larger scheme to intensify the use of land or to develop a fresh concept.

Hence, there is much to be said for a studied approach to the approval of food shop licences to minimise the impact of a cluster on the immediate neighbourhood. This is preferable to a subsequent ban on new eateries, as happened at Thomson Village, Little India and Bedok. Of course, problems might be less acute if foodies just leave their cars at home, take public transport, call for "drive home" services or pay for car valets.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 19, 2016, with the headline 'Chew on dilemma of eating spots'. Print Edition | Subscribe