Over the past six months, at least four online hawker food delivery start-ups have emerged.
But unlike previous islandwide hawker delivery services such as hawker.today, which closed down, these cater to limited areas or have specific delivery times to keep operation costs low.
They are Yihawker, a hawker food delivery and listing platform; HungrySia, which caters to bulk corporate food orders; WhyQ, which targets hungry office workers in the Central Business District (CBD); and Fastbee.sg, an ordering portal that dispenses food in vending machines.
These start-ups are filling a gap in the food delivery sector that is dominated by fast-food outlets, and companies such as foodpanda, Deliveroo and UberEats that mainly offer food from restaurants.
They do not require a minimum order and charge lower delivery fees from $1.50, unlike foodpanda, which requires a minimum order of $15; or UberEats and Deliveroo, which charge a delivery fee of $3 to $3.50.
Most of the hawker dishes cost $4 to $7, which include a 10 to 30 per cent cut for delivery. Because of the small profit margins, keeping operation costs low is vital for these services to survive.
One way is to reduce manpower through a batch-based model, where orders from various hawker stalls are consolidated and delivered to fixed locations and at regulated times - unlike previous services that deliver to customers' doorsteps at any time of the day.
For example, WhyQ, which started in February, delivers only to the CBD.
Co-founder Varun Saraf, 27, was spurred to start the service from his lunchtime woes when he worked as a financial analyst in the CBD for four years. "The queues in the foodcourts were horrendously long and it took 45 minutes before I could finally eat," he says. "It was too expensive and troublesome to find colleagues to combine orders on foodpanda to hit the minimum order."
He left his job in October last year to start WhyQ with his friend, Mr Rishabh Singhvi, 27, pumping in $30,000 for his share. The service charges a $1.50 delivery fee and no minimum order is required. It receives about 500 orders daily from a pool of 7,500 customers.
During lunchtime, a delivery crew of 20 collects food in bulk and distributes it at more than 50 pick-up points at three fixed time slots. Mr Varun intends to expand the service to other office zones such as Changi Business Park and one-north by this year.
FastBee.sg delivers to an even narrower area. Its vending machines are located at four office hubs in the West: CleanTech One, Science Park (which has two locations) and Mediapolis (open only to Mediacorp employees).
This "reduces time wastage from waiting for delivery pick-ups", says Fastbee.sg founder Khoo Kar Kiat, 34, who left his eight-year job at the Economic Development Board in October last year to start the service with $60,000. He sells 160 packets of food daily and plans to have six more vending machines by this year.
HungrySia caters to only bulk orders.
Founder Tan Yi Hao, 24, who is a final-year computer engineering undergraduate at Singapore University of Technology and Design, says that 80 per cent of his business come from companies that cater for staff meals. He gets more than 100 orders a month.
Yihawker founder Jonathan Tan, 27, was also behind hawker.today, which shut down in July last year after six months.
He says the previous company failed because it offered delivery islandwide, which required too much manpower.
Yihawker, launched earlier this month, focuses on delivering food from hawker centres in the east and central areas.
To stand out from the competition, he is adding functions that allow customers to track the number of people waiting in line at a particular stall before going down to the stall, and for hawkers to order ingredients. About 17 hawkers have signed up for these new services that will start next month.
Mr Tan says: "By using technology, hawkers can plan their workload and manage their business more efficiently."
One of the hawkers using Yihawker's delivery service is Mr Larry Ng, 33, of Sin Bedok North BBQ Chicken Wing in Fengshan Market & Hawker Centre. He says: "Although sales have not improved by a lot, it is a contingency plan to get some business during rainy and hazy days and secure some corporate orders."
Another hawker, Mr Roy Tan, 43, of congee stall Li Fang Zhou Pin in Yuhua Hawker Centre, says: "Being on the Fastbee.sg platform has allowed me to reach out to more customers and I can prepare these extra orders during off-peak periods."
It is also a win-win situation for diners, who value such services for the convenience.
Production manager Desmond Ong, 37, who uses Fastbee.sg's service for lunch on weekdays, says: "I can try food from different hawker centres without queueing or relying on one foodcourt near my office, and the additional service fee of $1.50 is reasonable."
Go to http://str.sg/4KQr to see how Fastbee.sg's vending machines work
Area covered: 105 stalls in five hawker centres in the west, including Yuhua Hawker Centre and Clementi Central Food Centre
How it works: Unlike other delivery services, the food is placed in vending machines at four business parks in the west, including The Curie building in Science Park 1 (83 Science Park Drive) and Clean Tech Park (1 Cleantech Loop).
Make your order and pay online by 10.45am on weekdays. Hawkers receive the orders via SMS or online. A delivery team of six or seven drivers picks up the food and delivers it to the four locations in cars by noon.
The packets of food are placed in a locker vending machine fitted with a heating element to keep each compartment warm at 45 deg C.
Customers key in their mobile phone numbers to unlock the allocated compartment. To ensure food safety, the food must be collected by 1pm before the machine is emptied.
Food: Customers can choose from six dishes that are available at each vending machine. The menu changes daily and varies at different machines. Prices are $1 to $1.50 higher than at hawker centres due to a service fee.
Bestsellers include thunder tea brown rice ($5.50) from Zhen Fa Lei Cha Fan at 349 Jurong East Street 31; Thai basil chicken rice ($6.50) from Tasty Thai Hut in Bukit Timah Food Centre; and century egg and lean meat congee ($4.50) from Li Fang Zhou Pin in Yuhua Hawker Centre.
Price: From $4.50 for Ipoh hor fun from Joyful Palace in Yuhua Hawker Centre to $7.50 for teriyaki salmon don from Chikuyo Japanese Cuisine in Bukit Timah Food Centre.
Info: Go to fastbee.sg. There are plans to launch an app version by early next year
Area covered: 350 stalls in seven hawker centres in the Central Business District.
How it works: Choose from about 3,000 hawker dishes on this portal. Order and pay online and pick a collection time slot.
There are three time slots each for lunch (12.05 to 1.15pm) and dinner (6 to 7.30pm). Orders must be made 45 to 75 minutes before collection time.
The delivery team, which travels by foot or on e-scooters, picks up the food from the hawker centres, sorts and organises the orders at Market Street Interim Hawker Centre in Cross Street and delivers them to more than 50 delivery pick-up points - mainly office buildings located within a 1.5km radius in the CBD.
Corporate bulk orders for breakfast, lunch and dinner can be made online by 10.30am daily.
Co-founder Varun Saraf, 27, says that the company has various agreements with different vendors. WhyQ takes a 10 per cent commission from most stalls, except for sales of low-cost dishes.
Food: Popular items include chicken rice ($2.50) from the one-Michelin-starred Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice at Chinatown Complex Food Centre; fish soup ($5.50) from Han Kee at Amoy Street Food Centre; and char kway teow ($3.50) from Outram Park Fried Kway Teow in Hong Lim Food Centre. Prices are $1 to $1.50 higher than at hawker centres due to a service fee.
Price: From $1.50 for economy bee hoon from Chang Ji at Chinatown Complex Food Centre. A $1.50 delivery charge applies for each meal order. No minimum order required.
Info: Go to www.whyq.sg. The Android version of the app will be ready by this month and the Apple version of the app will be available by next month.
Area covered: About 100 hawker stalls in six hawker centres such as Boon Lay Place Food Village and Chinatown Complex Food Centre.
How it works: This six-month-old service provides meals for five to 1,000 people and functions like a catering service. Instead of getting food from a caterer's central kitchen, meals come from various hawker stalls.
Unlike other delivery services, customers cannot view the menu and prices online and there is no information about the hawker stalls.
Instead, they fill up forms on their budget, dietary restrictions, location, the quantity of food required and preferred cuisines. Orders have to be submitted online one day in advance. The team will then contact the customers to personalise their orders further.
There are plans to boost the online ordering system by including menu recommendations according to one's budget and occasions in the next two months.
Owner Tan Yi Hao, 24, says he buys the food from hawkers at walk-in prices and also has "special price arrangements" for large and regular orders that can be up to $1 below walk-in prices.
Recently, it has launched weekly and monthly corporate meal subscription services that allow companies to have a rotating menu of hawker food on a weekly or monthly basis.
Food: Most of the corporate food orders comprise economy rice packets ($3 to $5) and bento rice sets ($6 to $8). Popular stalls include Boon Lay Power Nasi Lemak in Boon Lay Place and Hai Kee Soy Sauce Chicken in Eunos Crescent.
Price: Varies based on the orders. Food packages can cost $5 to $6 each for a group of 20 people. Prices include an islandwide delivery charge.
Area covered: 300 stalls in 14 hawker centres in east and central Singapore, including Bedok Interchange Hawker Centre, Fengshan Market & Food Centre and Old Airport Road Food Centre.
How it works: Only customers with a delivery address within 6 to 8km of the participating hawker centres can browse the food and prices on the Yihawker website and app, which is available on Apple and Android mobile devices.
Deliveries are made within an hour. Currently, the service accepts only cash on delivery. Online payment options will be available by the middle of next month.
There are plans to add a "walk-in" function next month for diners who prefer to go to the hawker centres. They pre-order the food online and they can see how many orders are in the queue and the estimated waiting time before they go to the stall to collect their food. There will be no extra charge for food ordered via this function.
Another new function lets hawkers order ingredients in bulk.
Food: Hot orders include barbecued chicken wings ($5.70 for three) from Sin Bedok North BBQ Chicken Wing and bak chor mee (from $3.90) from Xing Ji Minced Meat Noodles, both at Fengshan Market & Food Centre; and rojak (from $3.90) from Toa Payoh Rojak and chicken rice ($3.50) from Kheng Hai Hui Chicken Rice in Old Airport Road Food Centre. Delivery prices are 20 to 30 per cent more than dine-in prices.
Price: From $2.90 for five pieces of chwee kueh from Siang Siang Chwee Kueh at Fengshan Market & Food Centre. A minimum order of $12 is required.