Not all hawkers display the prices of the food they sell at their stalls, a practice the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) hopes to change.
A survey released by the consumer watchdog yesterday found that 89 out of 584 food stalls surveyed islandwide - at both government-owned hawker centres and privately owned coffee shops - failed to display prices at their stalls.
Most of those who did not do so were hawkers at privately owned coffee shops and eateries, and over half - 50 out of the 89 - were hawkers who sold mixed vegetable dishes.
"For stalls that do not display their food prices, consumers will be able to know the actual price of the food they ordered only after it has been packed and handed over to them," said Case president Lim Biow Chuan. "To help consumers be more discerning and be able to compare prices, Case would like to urge all hawkers to display prices prominently at their food stalls."
Under licensing conditions, stallholders in the 108 hawker centres managed by the National Environment Agency (NEA) are required to display their prices prominently. Failure to do so may result in the suspension of the hawker's licence.
According to Case's checks, there are no such rules for privately owned hawker centres and coffee shops.
The survey also found there was no change in mode prices - prices most commonly charged by hawkers - compared with a similar study in July last year for five surveyed food items. The mode prices were: $5 for chicken nasi briyani, $3 for chicken rice, $3 for fishball noodles, $3 for mixed vegetables rice (two vegetables and one meat) and $1.80 for roti prata (two plain pratas).
But although these prices remained unchanged, more hawkers were charging above last year's mode price. Forty-seven per cent of chicken briyani sellers, for instance, charge over $5 for the dish this year, compared with 31 per cent that did so last year. The highest price found was $7.90.
The consumer watchdog also discovered that takeaway charges for the food items surveyed ranged from 10 cents to 50 cents, depending on the type of container used.
Mr Lim Kah Chai, who owns Chai Hock Eating House in Toa Payoh, does not display the prices of the chicken rice he sells.
He told The Straits Times: "If we put up the prices and we have to change the items, it's a hassle."
However, the main reason, said the 51-year-old, is that he does not see the need. "We have a lot of regular customers and they already know our prices."
He said that the $2.50 he charges for a small plate of chicken rice has remained unchanged for over 20 years despite the higher cost of ingredients such as rice and chicken.
But Mr Muhammad Shiraj, 25, thinks hawkers should display prices, especially when a stall sells dishes such as Indian rojak or yong tau foo, where there are many items to choose from.
"I sometimes end up paying more than I want to and, in the end, I stop going to the stall because I think (the food) is overpriced," said the engineering student. By displaying the prices, "I will know how much it is going to cost me", he said.
However, Mr Jason Chan, 35, who works at a bank, says not displaying prices "doesn't seem like a big deal". He said: "If nothing is displayed, customers can just ask."