Dear Singapore, Why Are We Queuing For Donuts, Fried Chicken & BBQ Buns?

Dear Singapore, Why Are We Queuing For Donuts, Fried Chicken & BBQ Buns?
by

If there is any one word to describe the food trend in Singapore 2013, it would be “Queue”. Over the last year, we have queued for anything from sugar-coated donuts, fried chicken, nasi lemak, French macaron, local tau hway to BBQ Buns.

I am not even going to start about Hello Kitty, Minions and IKEA meatballs.

Perhaps we are indeed obsessed with queues, but some of these queues have stretched anything from 1 to 3 hours. Even more ridiculous, you get a free “I queued 3 hours T-shirt” in one case.

For those who have sacrificed previous times of leave (or MC) and weekends in the line, when you could have spent those hours sleeping, did that BBQ bun really tasted all that that that better than the other brands? Was that cup of bubble tea worth all that wait? After all, tt is JUST bubble tea.

It may all be boiled down to “bragging rights” and say “I had them – they are really good. I had them – so so only. I had them – not worth the hype. You MEAN you have NOT tried? Oh…”

Social media definitely played its role. In the past, you could only brag to your friends – they couldn’t care less. Now, you can brag to your 639 friends on facebook – 10 of them liked your photos, 49 may be curious to try it, and the rest still couldn’t care less.

It’s all about being the IN group. “You mean you still havn’t tried Tim Ho Wan?!” (Try facebooking about Beard Papa or Roti Boy now.)

The day I instagrammed having about Krispy Kreme donuts – on a quiet weekend two weeks before opening date – that instavideo received over 3000 likes, twice more than my average.

It is not just about the brands. Some popular overseas food brands opened in Singapore with less than desirable fanfare. (While the media would chatter, “PR bo zo gang ah?”)

The brands with ‘formidable’ queues, which I defined those which lasted beyond the initial days of hype, all played the public relations and marketing cards right.

Best case study: Tim Ho Wan’s PR company invited personalities, influencers, journalists, radio RJs, and every food blogger I knew for tastings which spanned a few days. Social media feeds were literally flooded with pictures of char siew buns.

Add in a charity event. Play the Michelin star factor. People forget it is those 2 branches in Hong Kong which got the star, not Singapore’s. Even Din Tai Fung had 1 star in Hong Kong, hello?

Krispy Kreme went beyond generous, sending boxes of 4 dozens (!) to print and online media writers, boxes of 2 dozens to food bloggers and to my doorstep, and some to universities and banks. There is no way you would miss seeing those round donuts unless you didn’t add anybody on your instagram or twitter.

Jollibee hired a reputable agency, but it was ironically the “alternative online news sites” who wanted to boycott the shop for employment discrimination, which pushed the Filipino chains to everyone’s attention. Singapore’s only branch subsequently became the top performing outlet in the entire world.

Singaporeans have a ‘kiasu’ streak. We love a bit of competition – most of which are really imaginary.

All the food business needs to do is create some form of scarcity. Use the words “limited”, “special edition”, “only first xxx gets it”, “while stocks last”. The scarcity does not need to be real. It’s the oldest trick in the Marketing 101 textbook, but still works.

We were surprised to find Jamie’s Italian Singapore almost fully booked for 2 months online on Day 1, but decided to go straight there and found half the restaurant empty. Laduree’s Singapore edition box of eight macarons was at $38.00 ($4.75 for one macaron!), and the container may make a suitable paperclip holder subsequently. Da Paolo makes just 100 Crodos at each store each day.

For most of these food hypes, the queues came and left faster than facebook makes its updates, especially when customers feel that they are not getting a good deal for the time invested in waiting– not tasty, too expensive, not worth the queue and hype.

Or, been there instagrammed that – next!

We have all heard the news of the Krispy Kreme queue. It was not unexpected given the amount of media publicity they drummed up.

The real test is: What comes after next? Food businesses should not look at just the initial burst of publicity, but sustainability. You want returning customers, not those who are frustrated by queues and queue systems.

We do not need to look too far away to realise that J.Co is still a bigger donut brand than Krispy Kreme in Indonesia, and Hong Kong’s initial Krispy Kreme splendor went into closure in just less than 2 years. Who still remembers Donut Factory and their 3 hour queues at Raffles City?

The stronger the initial wave, the faster it may go away.

(Last word of advice to food businesses: Keep your customers close, and your media friends closer. Sometimes they can help you decide what’s really IN.)

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Comments

  1. The PR Companies have played their cards brilliantly. Very good initial hype for the restaurants, but not very good for the people who have to queue!

  2. I must say social media and the PR agencies have done a good job in creating all these hype. For sure instagram and fb has done a good job too. Sometimes it’s really the herd syndrome too …like the whole grp has eaten at this place, the rest of the social media die die must also go eat else it’s like losing out.. the food may not even be good in the first place …

  3. Precisely. it’s the herd syndrome made worse by social media and the ‘kiasu-ness’ in-built in Singaporeans. just because someone on their facebook or twitter had eaten Krispy Kreme, for instance, they feel that the whole world has crashed down on them just because they’re not the first ones in their clique or group of friends to have eaten it. really silly behaviour. case in point- i’ve not eaten tim ho wan!

  4. Hi Daniel! When Krispy Kreme arrived in the Philippine market some years ago, we shared the same experience. The lines were long and the management has to limit the number of boxes a person can purchase. Today, it’s the famous hybrid food “cronuts” that has taken over the craze. Some months ago, the situation was the same for J.Co. Laduree is not yet in the Philippine market. When Laduree decides to explore the Ph market, I’m sure… the situation will exactly be the same despite the little hefty price tag that comes with it.

    I agree with your point that more than the initial burst of publicity, companies should be more concerned with sustainability. It’s the real name of the game!

    Great insightful post :) Have a great week ahead Daniel!

  5. Great article :)

  6. You do realise by touching on all the current fads, you are inevitably fanning the curiosity? I had a quick look at Krispy Kreme after 10.10pm tonight (Monday 14th Oct) and there were about a queue of 20 people. But what caught my attention (and not really a side issue at all) was that someone had dropped a single glazed donut on the pristine black marbled floor outside the Tang store and just right in front of the steps/escalators leading up to the Marriott hotel. The gentleman apologized for it but the security guard seems to be giving him grief about it by standing near the broken donut – the last thing I saw as I left for the MRT station was the gentleman taking out some tissue paper, seemingly being made to clean up the mess by the security guard. I really hope that wasn't the case because that would have been too much.

  7. Queuing makes some people feel excited because they enjoy the torture of waiting to buy something. Its consumer masochism.

  8. Call me sad, not hip or up to date or whatever but I can assure you that I have never queued for any of the places mentioned. :) Why? Because I don't care :)

  9. Totally love your article and this is because I have never understood the mentality behind standing in line for hours for something that really does not make an impact of your life. Does a donut, a stuffed toy or a char siew filled bun really enrich you in some way? Life is too short to spend a good part of it in a queue! Hello!

  10. […] good. Singaporeans have queued for $ 1 Chicken Tendergrill Burgers, Hello Kitty Happy Meals, and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, so don’t be surprised when you randomly see a queue somewhere. Queues are also good indicators […]

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