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