Food courts

Food courts in Singapore are air-conditioned food centres that serve inexpensive cooked food, drinks and desserts.1 Each food court houses an array of stand-alone food stalls that are managed and rented out by a food court operator. Food courts serve predominantly local hawker food and drinks but international cuisines like Western, Thai, Japanese and Korean fare can also be found there.2

Before food courts became widely established, hawker food in Singapore was usually served in outdoor eating places like hawker centres or coffee shops. Although the food served in these premises was reasonably priced and satisfying, having a meal at these places was usually not a very comfortable experience, because of the hot and humid weather in Singapore.3

The first private-owned, air-conditioned hawker food centre in a shopping complex was the Foodland Eating House, which opened in 1976 at Orchard Shopping Centre.4 Two other similar food centres subsequently opened at Pearl’s Centre and High Street Shopping Centre.5

Food Paradise at Funan Centre opened in January 1985, followed by Picnic at Scotts Shopping Centre along Scotts Road at the end of the year.6 Picnic became popular and was the first to be called a “food court”.7 Its design was modelled after American ones following the American food court trend started by shopping mall developer James Rouse in the 1970s.8 The concept of the food court caught on in Singapore, and soon more food courts were established in many diverse places throughout the island, including shopping centres, housing estates and industrial parks.9

Some food court operators also began to set up food courts with unique themes to provide a more varied dining experience for their customers. Food court operator Kopitiam, for example, set up a jungle-themed food court at Plaza Singapura shopping mall along Orchard Road in 1998.10 Food courts that served halal food also started during this period with the opening of the first all-halal food court, the Banquet Halal Food Court, at Jurong Point Shopping Centre, in 1999.11 There were also Japanese-themed food courts that served only Japanese cuisine.12

Besides having themed decors, larger food courts also offered branches of well-known hawker stalls and miniature versions of popular restaurants within their premises. Modern amenities like free wireless access were provided at certain food courts to attract customers.13 

A food court is managed by an operator who leases space from the property owner. The operator designs and renovates the premises to house individual stalls, tables and chairs, then rents these stalls out to vendors. Besides air-conditioning, food court operators provide cutlery, cleaning staff support and sometimes even uniforms to vendors so as to give each food court a neat and standardised look-and-feel. The day-to-day operations, tenant mix and marketing of the food courts are also managed by the operators.14

Food available in food courts are similar to those found in hawker centres. But in exchange for the air-conditioned comfort and “a touch of class” in food courts, customers typically pay 10 to 30 percent more for a meal there than for a similar meal at a hawker centre.15

The main food court operators in Singapore include Food Junction, Food Republic, Kopitiam and Koufu.16 Some of Food Republic’s more iconic food courts include its 1960s and 1970s Singapore retro-themed food court at Wisma Atria along Orchard Road, and its Suntec Convention Centre branch at Raffles Boulevard, which is reminiscent of a 19th-century European library.17

In 2004, Kopitiam pioneered cashless food court dining with its Kopitiam Card, a stored-value card that allows diners to pay for food in Kopitiam outlets at a discount.18 

Another major operator, Food Junction, one of the pioneers in the food court business, also operates some of its own food and beverage stalls in its food courts. Meanwhile, Koufu offers innovative concepts like wireless internet access at some of its food courts.19 

Jean Lim

1. Huang Lijie, “A Different Court-ship,” Straits Times, 21 October 2007, 64. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “Hitting the Jackpot with Food Courts,” Straits Times, 6 January 1995, 1–2. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Lily Kong, Singapore Hawker Centres: People, Places, Food (Singapore: National Environment Agency, 2007), 51. (Call no. RSING 381.18095957 KON)
4. Margaret Chan, “Shopping Centres Fill a Gnawing Gap,” Sunday Times, 8 December 1985, 4; Margaret Chan, “Duo Starts Hawker Centre,” Sunday Times, 13 October 1985, 5. (From NewspaperSG); Richard Adhikari, “Croc Chop for Lunch, Anyone?New Nation, 27 April 1977, 1.
5. Margaret Chan, “Shopping Centres Fill a Gnawing Gap”; Violet Oon, “The Fourth-floor Hawkers,” Straits Times, 26 August 1979, 16; Margaret Chan, “German Specialties, Japanese Fare and Tandoori Chicken,” Sunday Times, 8 December 1985 p. 4. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Matthew Yap, “More Shopping Centres Banking on Hawkers,” Straits Times, 29 September 1986, 11; Natalin Ling, “Anything from Laksa to Tempura in Paradise,” Straits Times, 18 April 1985, 3; Huang Lijie, “A Different Court-ship.” (From NewspaperSG)
7. “How Food Halls Are Tempting the Hungry Investors,” Straits Times, 6 January 1995, 2; Yap, “More Shopping Centres Banking on Hawkers”; “Shopping Centres Watching Success of Scotts Food Court,” Sunday Times, 8 December 1985, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Monica Gwee, “Picnic Goes Down Well,” Business Times, 26 April 1986, 6. (From NewspaperSG); Margaret Chan, “Shopping Centres Fill a Gnawing Gap”; Elaine Misonzhnik, “Return of the Mall,” Retail Traffic 40, no. 3 (June 2011). (From ProQuest Central via NLB’s eResources website).
9. “Hitting the Jackpot with Food Courts.” 
10. Huang, “A Different Court-ship.”
11. Margaret Chua, “Mee Pok, Chilli, One Bowl, Halal Please,” Straits Times, 21 March 2002, 30. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Siow Li Sen, “Japan Foods Opens Theme Food Court,” Business Times, 13 April 2009, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Huang Lijie, “Courting Customers,” Straits Times, 18 October 2009, 60. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “How Food Halls Are Tempting the Hungry Investors.”
15. Kong, Singapore Hawker Centres, 51.
16. Huang, “A Different Court-ship.”
17. Teo Pau Lin, “Dishing Out Nostalgia,” Straits Times, 19 October 2005, 4; Huang, “A Different Court-ship.” (From NewspaperSG)
18. Kopitiam Group of Companies, “Our Milestones,” accessed 17 August 2016.
19. Huang, “Courting Customers,” 

The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


Streets and Places
Food courts--Singapore