by Lim, Jean
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 due to the hot and humid weather in Singapore.3
In 1985, the first food court, Picnic, was established in the Scotts Shopping Centre along Scotts Road.4 As this was the first food establishment that offered affordable hawker fare in a comfortable, air-conditioned environment, it became a very popular eating place. The concept of the food court caught on and soon more and more food courts were established in many diverse places throughout the island, including shopping centres, housing estates and industrial parks.5
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 1998.6 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 1999.7 There were also Japanese-themed food courts that served only Japanese cuisine.8
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.9
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.10
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.11
The main food court operators in Singapore include Food Junction, Food Republic, Kopitiam and Koufu.12 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.13
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.14
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.15
1. Huang, L. (2007, October 21). A different court-ship. The Straits Times, p. 64. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Yap, E. (1995, January 6). Hitting the jackpot with food courts. The Straits Times, pp. 1–2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Kong, L. (2007). Singapore hawker centres: People, places, food. Singapore: National Environment Agency, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 381.18095957 KON)
4. Huang, L. (2007, October 21). A different court-ship. The Straits Times, p. 64. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Hitting the jackpot with food courts. (1995, January 6) The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Huang, L. (2007, October 21). A different court-ship. The Straits Times, p. 64. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Chua, M. (2002, March 21). Mee pok, chilli, on bowl, halal please. The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Siow, L. S. (2009, April 13). Japan Foods opens theme food court. The Business Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Huang, L. (2009, October 18). Courting customers. The Straits Times, p. 60. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. How food halls are tempting the hungry investors. (1995, January 6). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Kong, L. (2007). Singapore hawker centres: People, places, food. Singapore: National Environment Agency, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 381.18095957 KON)
12. Huang, L. (2007, October 21). A different court-ship. The Straits Times, p. 64. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Teo, P. L. (2005, October 19). Dishing out nostalgia. The Straits Times, p. 4; Huang, L. (2007, October 21). A different court-ship. The Straits Times, p. 64. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Kopitiam Group of Companies. (2014). Our milestones. Retrieved 2016, August 17 from Kopitiam website: http://www.kopitiam.biz/our-milestones/
15. Huang, L. (2009, October 18). Courting customers. The Straits Times, p. 60. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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.