Fuelling recovery via drive-through

Yeap (right) arranging packed rice and noodles at her stall in the Batu Lanchang Market’s food court which was earlier closed due to a Covid-19 outbreak.

THE proverb “necessity is the mother of invention” rings true for the decades-old hawker stalls located at the food court in Penang’s Batu Lanchang Market.

Affected badly by an earlier outbreak of Covid-19, the hawkers suffered a severe drop in business.

But instead of crying over it, they decided to use the market’s spacious parking area by creating a drive-through system, so that customers could pick up their orders without having to get out of their vehicles.

Yeap Poh Beng, 52, who sells kuih and local delights, said she decided on opting for the drive-through system after the food court was closed for nine days last month following a few Covid-19 cases.

“After our stalls were reopened, we realised that people were afraid to come into the food court.

“So we decided it would be safer for us and the customers if they placed their orders by phone. We could then pass the orders to them at the parking area.

“That way, there is minimal contact and we still get to operate our stalls.

“Since starting the drive-through service early this month, business has picked up,” she said.

Yeap, who has been operating her stall for over 14 years, said many of her customers were 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 oblige our customers who place orders at other food stalls and also deliver it to them in their vehicles.

“We are all friends and in times like this, we must band together and help one another,” she said.

Yeap offers delivery services too but does not charge for it.

“We do not want to charge delivery fees as our customers are in the vicinity and we know the pandemic has impacted everyone.

“The least we can do is not burden customers with extra charges.

“They in turn have been kind enough to place large orders with us.

“Everyone is going through a hard time. We do not want to make it worse for them by selling food at higher prices,” she added.

Some hawkers have also created a drive-through system and a special website for customer orders.

Goh Kok Joo, 39, who sells freshly steamed pau (buns) at the food court, said business had increased with over 20 orders a day since the group started the 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 stall operators.

Goh has been at the food court for 22 years as his parents run a coffee stall there.

“To see those I grew up with struggling and without much business is difficult and sad.

“With this platform where we have four pick-up points, we help them with their business.

“Those providing food delivery services mark up our prices, so we prefer to offer the service 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 pau for big orders,” he said.

There are still walk-in customers but the drive-through and delivery service have helped the hawkers stay afloat.

Batu Lanchang assemblyman Ong Ah Teong, who has been helping to market the hawkers’ drive-through services, said the hawkers’ businesses dipped by about 80% with the outbreak of the pandemic.

“Now they have 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.

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