Observations at Hawker Centre


During the Chinese New Year period, I went to the Hawker Centre near my house – Ayer Rajah Food Centre to conduct my observations for this assignment.

Most of the Chinese stalls were closed from the evening of Chinese New Year eve till the third or forth day of New Year. Certain well-known stalls were still closed up till this Sunday. As a result, certain stalls that were usually less popular experienced more customers.

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Another notable difference of this period and the usual days will be that the Hawker centre will be decorated with Chinese New Year decorations, such as the pineapple for prosperity. Certain stalls will also decorate their stalls for the new year.

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With regards to the stall arrangement in this Hawker centre, Chinese food and Indian/Muslim food stalls seem to be loosely separated into two sections. Since most of the Chinese food stalls open early in the day till evening time while the Indian/Muslim food stalls open in the later part of the day till late, the Hawker Centre becomes predominantly visited by Chinese customers during the day and Muslim or Indian customers during the night.

At the Hawker Centre, tables are on a first come first serve basis. The first to sit on the table will get the whole table to themselves. As such, it has become a norm in Singapore hawker centres for customers to put personal belongings on the table to show that the table is taken. These items include bags, groceries, umbrellas, tissue paper and even walking sticks. Once in awhile, one can see people using their plates of food to ‘reserve’ their table while the customer leave to buy something else.

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Vendors are forbidden to tout at this hawker centre, however, this does not hinder them from advertising their stall. Reputed stalls are commonly seen to put up certificates and various newspaper reports as part of their stall signs. Customers recognises these as a guarantee for good food.


Furthermore, customers will observe if there are queues lined in front of stores. It is common belief that a long line of customers would mean that the particular store is popular. Certain stores are more popular than others as they serve food at a more affordable prices.

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Some Vendors will send their orders to the respective tables for their customers if the table number is given. Beverages store vendors will also try to improve their sales by approaching nearby tables for beverage orders and sending the drinks to them personally. Many customers seated around the store will purchase drinks from them for convenience sake.

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Vendors are usually able to understand a variety of languages and dialects. As observed, it is common for younger customers to use Singlish (Mixture of English and Chinese) to order their food while the older generations tend to speak their mother tongue or dialects. At times, Vendors will receive their orders in English or Chinese when customers of other races patronise them. To speed up the process of ordering, vendors usually allocate one person to take a few orders from the queue before going back to the inform the chef. In this way, the chef can cook the orders in bulk.

Video of food ordering: https://youtu.be/mIKL1t50r4k

This Hawker Centre was supposed to be one where customers return their cutleries to the return points scattered around the Hawker centre after they finish their food. However, many bowls and cups were seen scattered on empty tables leaving them for the cleaners to clear up.

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Throughout the whole experience at the Hawker Centre, the soft clanging of crockeries and pots can be heard frequently. This is so as many vendors are cooking simultaneously, resulting in this cacophony.

It is also common to catch a whiff of the respective food sold by nearby stores. These food scents will remain on the clothing of customers even after they leave the Hawker centre which might be frustrating for those who intend to visit other places immediately after their meals. As such, certain customers choose to takeaway their food so as to prevent smelling like what they ate the whole day. During the day, lighting in the Hawker centre are not turned on. Thus, the middle section of the Hawker centre is usually not well lit during the day and can prove to be very dark when it rains. Ventilation in the middle section is also bad as the building does not have an airway in the middle section to allow hot air to rise. Hence, many customers will choose to sit at tables under the fan at the middle section. If possible, customers usually choose to seat at tables located at both sides of the Hawker centre. These seats usually get more wind and reduces the smell from remaining on their clothing.

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