Makansutra: Dig into $19 zi char buffet every Wednesday
Hong Kong Street Old Chun Kee has deal that lands you 10 dishes for $19 a head
Times are still tough for those in the food and beverage trade, folks still eat out but purse strings are getting tighter, and many still do not spend unnecessary money on transport to visit places just for food.
So how does a small player attract locals with thinning family meal budgets?
Well, the man behind Hong Kong Street Old Chun Kee at Makansutra Gluttons Bay has come up with what may be the first a la carte zi char buffet from a hawker stall in Singapore, available only on Wednesdays.
"Ten dishes for $19 a person, eat as much as you want" was Mr Chan Yau Chong's plan, to which I naturally queried if he can turn a profit.
He smiled, nodded and turned away, taking with him a cost control operational secret that only experienced players know. Mr Chan said he knows there are families who want more than a basic family zi char meal at affordable prices, and it is his duty to dole it out as best as he can.
Mind you, the 10 dishes include Fried Seafood Omelette, Indonesian Lemongrass Chicken, Mongolian Pork Ribs, Thick Onion Omelette, Crispy Cereal Fried Rice, Sambal Kangkong, its signature Boneless Fried Prawn Paste Chicken, Oyster Kailan, Hong Kong Noodles and Sweet and Sour Pork - not exactly a low-cost, all-vegetable, starch and tofu budget buffet affair.
After trying them all, I imagined how two people could tear into all 10 dishes and waddle happily away after.
There is a minimum two-person requirement and customers can order as much as they want (one of any item at a time).
My favourite is the Indonesian Lemongrass Chicken - double fried for sinful crispiness and laced with kicap chilli sauce and lemongrass.
The Boneless Fried Prawn Paste Chicken is difficult to resist, done like its signature Prawn Paste Chicken Wings but using boneless leg meat.
The Mongolian Pork Ribs have a light spicy and tangy sensation and goes well with the Oyster Kailan - just add rice, or in this case, the newly created Crispy Cereal Fried Rice with seafood bits.
I asked if he will cook all these dishes and keep them in a chafing dish and warm them up upon order, and Mr Chan reminded me that these dishes are not stews and cannot sit long in a container.
So each dish is done a la minute upon order, so expect a bit of waiting time for these piping hot items.
Zi char dishes are not cheap, and having a family of five tear into 10 dishes buffet-style at $95 is a steal.
Plus, you can always take that post-meal stroll right along nearby Marina Bay, framed by the stunning skyline as a bonus for eating at the stall.
I always encourage hawkers to be innovative - look at the daily ingredients and come up with something different, or be it with pricing or an interesting rendition of what they normally sell, or both.
And to all F&B players - especially those in town that are seeing less walk-in traffic this Covid-19 season - think hard about creating something folks cannot easily get "downstairs" and give them good value and reason to visit you.
Hong Kong Street Old Chun Kee
Makansutra Gluttons Bay
8 Raffles Ave, beside The Esplanade
Opens 1pm to 10.30pm daily