THE proverb ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ rings true for the decades-old hawker stalls in the Batu Lanchang Market’s food court in Penang.
Hit badly by an earlier outbreak of Covid-19 cases, the hawkers unsurprisingly suffered a severe drop in business.
But instead of crying over it, the hawkers persevered, leveraged on Batu Lanchang Market’s spacious parking facility and created their own drive-through systems.
Yeap Poh Beng, 52, who sells a myriad of kuih and local delights, said her stall started the drive-through concept after the food court was closed for nine days last month, due to positive Covid-19 cases.
“After we reopened, we could see that people were afraid to come into our food court.
“We then thought it would be safer for us and the customers if they place their orders by phone and we pass them the orders at the parking area.
“That way, there is minimal contact and we still have business.
“Since starting the drive-through service at the beginning of this month, business has picked up,” she said at the food court in Batu Lanchang Market on Monday.
Yeap, who has been operating her stall for over 14 years, said many of her customers are regulars.
“They contact us and we then send them our menu.
“Once they place their orders, we coordinate the time and hand over the orders at the designated pick-up point.
“We do help customers place orders at other stalls and deliver it to their cars for them.
“We are all friends and in times like this, we must band together and help one another,” she said.
Yeap offers delivery services too and does not charge extra even for small orders.“We do not want to charge anyone delivery fees as our customers are nearby and we know that the pandemic has impacted everyone.
“The least we can do is not burden our customers with extra charges.
“They in turn have been kind enough to place large orders with us,” she said.
Yeap also does her own delivery as food delivery service providers charge a high commission or markup prices.
“Everyone is going through a hard time. We do not want to make it worse for them by selling food at higher prices,” she said.
Another group of hawkers in the same food court have created their own drive-through system too and even used a website for customers to order through it.
Goh Kok Joo, 39, who sells freshly steamed bao or buns at the food court, said business had gone up with 20 to 22 orders a day since they started this system.
“Since we started offering pick-up service and an online platform for people to place orders, business has improved.
“It is still a new concept. We are coordinating and learning as we go along to make it easier for the stalls.
Goh said he had been at the food court for 22 years as his father and mother run a coffee stall there.
“To see those I grew up with not having business is difficult and sad.
“With this platform where we have four pick-up points, we help them with their business.
“Food delivery services mark up our prices, so we prefer to do this ourselves,” he said.
Goh said with smartphones and technology at their disposal, there was no need for middlemen.
“We offer free delivery for orders above RM20 and I personally deliver the orders.
“I even offer a free bao for big orders,” he said.
There are still walk-in customers but the drive-through and delivery service help the hawkers stay afloat.
Batu Lanchang assemblyman Ong Ah Teong, who has been
helping to market the hawkers’ drive-through services, said since the pandemic hit, the hawkers’ businesses dipped by 70% to 80%.
“Now they have the customers placing orders online and coming over to pick them up at the drive-through points.
“It is helping the businesses by giving them exposure and increasing the orders.
“During times like these, we have to look for new ways to stay afloat,” he said.