SINGAPORE - Free lunchtime parking and covered walkways are just some of the ways the Timbre Group is trying to woo patrons to dine at Yishun Park Hawker Centre.
The 43-stall establishment at Yishun Avenue 11 has struggled to bring in enough customers since its opening last September.
At a dialogue session held at Nee Soon East Community Centre on Monday (April 23), hawkers raised issues with revenue and infrastructure and complaints about the automated systems at the modern-concept hawker centre. They were heard by representatives of the management, Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency, as well as the National Environment Agency.
One of the main concerns was that of footfall. The hawker centre, nestled in a primarily residential estate, suffers at lunchtime on weekdays due to the lack of office crowds.
"We're still coping at the moment, but it's not good," said a hawker who declined to be named, adding that the human traffic was "below par" compared to other hawker centres.
To attract a larger lunchtime crowd, the hawker centre will be rolling out initiatives such as free weekday lunchtime parking from 12pm to 2pm, for a maximum of one hour, starting on Wednesday (April 25).
It will also partner Grab to offer discount codes to those travelling to the hawker centre.
Other initiatives being planned include constructing sheltered walkways and having an umbrella-sharing programme to boost the centre's business in bad weather.
"When it rains it's total chaos," said a western food hawker, Mr Yeo. "No one can come in unless you drive in."
Some hawkers are optimistic about the planned initiatives, with Mr Chen Wen Kai, 41, owner of the White Bee Hoon stall, hoping for a 10 to 15 per cent increase in business once they gain momentum.
The hawker centre is the testing ground for numerous new ideas, with the aim to attract the younger generation to the hawker trade. It houses an "incubator programme'' to give a leg-up to first-time hawkers, some of whom are in their early 20s, and incorporates innovation such as a tray return system and a cashless system, in which patrons paying via a mobile app can get a 10 per cent discount.
Some hawkers, however, were less than pleased with the discount programme.
"The discount eats into our costs, so when 60 to 80 per cent of the crowd is using the app we need to mark up the cost to cover the costs," said Mr Yeo.
He added that one-time customers would be unlikely to go to the trouble of downloading and transferring credit to the app, and would then be deterred by the marked-up prices.
He added that, including rental, their costs were ultimately more expensive than a lot of hawker centres, and that "if this carries on, half the hawkers will be gone".
Eight have already vacated the premises, although three spots have since been filled, with a fourth- a second drink stall - on the way. The management is also in talks to bring in a halal drink stall, said Timbre Group managing director Edward Chia at a media interview on Monday.
Meanwhile, the tray return system has recently been boosted by a lucky draw initiative, in which customers who return their trays can stand to win up to $500 in credit.
Currently, patrons pay 50 cents for a tray, which is refunded when the tray is returned.
"It is a mindset change, which is not going to happen overnight," said Nee Soon MP Louis Ng. "I hope that this isn't the way forward, that everything we want to implement has to be incentivised."
Mr Chia said the tray refund was a temporary incentive."Changing human behaviour is always the toughest. The tray return thing is social graciousness, that I hope Singaporeans will eventually support."
Ms Kai Lin, 19, finds the tray and app systems somewhat inconvenient.
"Some people end up returning only the tray and leaving the bowls and utensils; it half works and half doesn't. And for the app, older people don't know how to use it, and I became lazy to use it as it's troublesome to use the kiosk to top up."
She added that her family members were very happy about the discount. However, she also noted that the food is generally more expensive compared to other eateries in the neighbourhood.