What Singaporeans Are Eating, and When

Over 90 per cent of residents visit a restaurant or other food service outlet at least once a week, well above the global average, shows research

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The 2018 romantic comedy, Crazy Rich Asians, celebrates and satirizes an extreme version of the Singapore lifestyle.

Not everyone in Singapore is rich, but disposable income is such that the city has one of today's hottest restaurant scenes. It's an extremely competitive market, but promising for expanding international dining chains.

That's one of the findings Technomic uncovered in its recent report on Singapore's food service industry. The research firm offers a 360-degree view of the market that combines operator and consumer data with expansion developments, menu trends and economic indicators.

A diverse market

Located at the tip of the Malaysian peninsula, Singapore is one of the globe's wealthiest nations, with a GDP of over US$90,000 per capita (purchasing power parity), generated by trade, transport, finance, tech and tourism.

Singapore is renowned for its diversity. Its 5.6 million citizens and residents include an ethnic Chinese majority, plus others of Malay, Indian, other Asian and European origin.

Malay, Mandarin, Tamil and English are all official languages, with English the lingua franca of business, government and education.

Food service in Singapore lifestyles

The island's urban congestion—with most residents crowded into high-rises—makes both formal restaurants and street food important to daily life.

Technomic's survey found that 92 per cent of Singaporeans visit a restaurant or other food service outlet at least once a week, well above the global average.

Consumers here source about two-thirds of their lunches and snacks, half their dinners and almost four out of 10 breakfasts away from home.

Usage of street foods and limited-service restaurants is also higher than the global average.

Singaporeans may also frequent restaurants to relax or meet friends. More than half of food service occasions are dine-in restaurant meals. But with hurried lifestyles, convenience demands and growth of delivery, the proportion of takeout and delivery orders is likely to rise. And when ordering takeout or delivery, tech-savvy Singaporeans are more likely than residents of other countries to place their order via app, computer or in-store kiosk.

More than consumers in other countries, Singaporeans express interest in high-tech ordering amenities like order tracking, saved favourite orders, artificial intelligence ordering assistance, chatbots, even self-driving delivery robots.

When dining outside the home, the residents enjoy a variety of global cuisines, particularly those of Asian nations.

These cuisine preferences are likely related to Singaporeans' fondness for spicy foods—about half like their food "very spicy"—well above the global average.

Asked what specific foods they would order from food service, the top answer was pizza. Burgers, chicken, pasta and seafood are also ordered at least occasionally by around half of Singaporeans—not too different from global patterns.

Almost half of consumers in Singapore order rice dishes from restaurants and food service outlets on occasion.

Singapore residents were also asked what beverages they would order from food service. Half chose fruit juice—same as the world average—and four out of 10 named hot or iced tea—above global averages, but in line with other Asian markets.

Bottled water, coffee, soda, beer and wine are less likely to be food service orders in Singapore than elsewhere. The relatively low popularity of adult beverages in restaurants is likely related to religious observance, at least for some.

Singapore's restaurant scene

Technomic data pegs food service in Singapore as a US$9.1 billion industry, with 7,000-plus commercial restaurants and bars, representing more than two-thirds of the total annual take.

The biggest restaurant chains in Singapore skew American, with the likes of McDonald's, Starbucks, Subway, KFC, Pizza Hut and Burger King all in the top 10.

The top 25 brands include a number of Singapore companies as well. These players include Old Chang Kee, purveyor of curry puffs; bakery cafe BreadTalk; Bengawan Solo and Polar Puffs, coffee cafes Ya Kun Kaya Toast, Killiney Kopitiam and Fun Toast, and full-service brands Crystal Jade, PastaMania and Astons.

The top 25 also include operators from other parts of Asia, primarily Japan.

Recent industry news shows that numbers of international restaurant companies have recognized the promise of the hot Singapore market.

Yum China's Little Sheep and South Korea-based Mom's Touch both signed deals with local franchisee No Signboard Holdings to build their brands in the market.

Australia-based Mad Mex Fresh Mexican Grill sold a 50 per cent stake in its business to the Singapore-based 4Fingers Group to expand in Singapore and Southeast Asia.

US-based Fatburger signed with local partner Deelish Brands to enter Singapore, while Shake Shack, also from the States, plans to debut in the market in 2019.

The Philippines-based Potato Corner, South Korea-based Isaac Toast and Australia-based chicken chain Oporto all recently entered Singapore.

Additionally, Malaysia-based Oldtown White Coffee launched a new concept store in technology-loving Singapore, featuring a facial-recognition ordering system along with an expanded menu of local foods and drinks.

What makes the Singapore market so competitive is not just the international chains and investment money pouring in, but also constant innovation in trends and fads on the part of existing restaurants.