Food courts

Singapore Infopedia


Food courts in Singapore are air-conditioned food centres that serve cooked food, drinks and desserts.1 Each food court houses food stalls that are managed and rented out by a food court operator. Food courts serve local hawker food and drinks and international cuisines like Western, Thai, Japanese and Korean fare.2

A food court is managed by an operator who leases space from the property owner. The operator designs and renovates the premises to house individual stalls, tables and chairs, then rents these stalls out to vendors. Food court operators provide cutlery, cleaning staff and sometimes even uniforms to vendors so as to give each food court a neat and standardised look. The day-to-day operations, tenant mix and marketing are also managed by the operators.3 Some food courts provide free Wi-Fi to attract customers, while food courts at the central business district were renovated to cater to younger and more affluent customers.4

Food courts offer food similar to that in hawker centres, though in exchange for the air-conditioned comfort in food courts, customers typically pay more for a meal there than for a similar meal at hawker centres.5 Some food court stalls are branches of well-known hawker stalls and restaurants.6

Before food courts became widely established, hawker food in Singapore was usually served in outdoor eating places like hawker centres or coffee shops. Although the food served in these premises was reasonably priced and satisfying, having a meal at these places was usually not a very comfortable experience, because of the hot and humid weather in Singapore.7

The first private-owned, air-conditioned hawker food centre in a shopping complex was the Foodland Eating House, which opened in 1976 at Orchard Shopping Centre.8 Two other similar food centres subsequently opened at Pearl’s Centre and High Street Shopping Centre.9

Food Paradise at Funan Centre opened in January 1985, followed by Picnic at Scotts Shopping Centre along Scotts Road at the end of the year.10 Picnic became popular and was the first to be called a “food court”.11 Its design was modelled after American ones following the American food court trend started by shopping mall developer James Rouse in the 1970s.12 

The concept of the food court caught on in Singapore, and soon more food courts were established in many diverse places throughout the island, including shopping centres, housing estates and industrial parks.13 In 1999, the first all-halal food court, the Banquet Halal Food Court, opened at Jurong Point Shopping Centre.14

Food courts in the 1980s were designed to be functional, with clean and air-conditioned dining areas. By the 1990s, themed food courts became popular to provide customers with a more varied dining experience. Food court operator Kopitiam, for example, set up a jungle-themed food court at Plaza Singapura shopping mall along Orchard Road in 1998. Subsequently by 2000, minimalist designs were favoured, and themed food courts became in vogue again around 2004. Some themed food courts included the retro-themed food court at Wisma Atria along Orchard Road, the 19th-century European library inspired food court at Suntec Convention Centre at Raffles Boulevard, and a Japanese-themed food court at Tampines 1 with only Japanese cuisine.15

In 2011, the Singapore Environment Council launched the Eco-Food Court certificate to promote and encourage food courts to adopt environmentally sustainable practices. Food courts would be assessed based on their water, energy, waste management, and meeting certain mandatory requirements such not using styrofoam boxes for takeaway orders. The first two food courts that were awarded the certificate were The Deck at the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and Kopitiam @ City Square Mall.16

A customer satisfaction survey conducted by the Institute of Service Excellence at the Singapore Management University in 2012 revealed that customers were the least satisfied in food courts compared to other food and beverage venues such as restaurants, fast-food joints and cafes. Nevertheless, customer satisfaction of food court segment has improved since 2010 when measurements first began.17

From 1 January 2022, diners at food courts, as well as at coffee shops, are required by law to return their used trays and crockery and clean their table litter. This is part of the National Environment Agency’s efforts to maintain high public hygiene and cleanliness standards in Singapore.18

Jean Lim and Shereen Tay

1. Huang Lijie, “A Different Court-Ship,” Straits Times, 21 October 2007, 64. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “How Food Halls Are Tempting the Hungry Investors,” Straits Times, 6 January 1995, 1–2. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “How Food Halls Are Tempting the Hungry Investors.”
4. Huang Lijie, “Courting Customers,” Straits Times, 18 October 2009, 60; Gayle Quah, “Food Courts Go Upmarket,” Straits Times, 7 June 2010, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Lily Kong, Singapore Hawker Centres: People, Places, Food (Singapore: National Environment Agency, 2007), 51. (Call no. RSING 381.18095957 KON)
6. Huang Lijie, “Courting Customers”; Quah, “Food Courts Go Upmarket.”
7. Kong, Singapore Hawker Centres, 51.
8. Margaret Chan, “Shopping Centres Fill a Gnawing Gap,” Straits Times, 8 December 1985, 4; Margaret Chan, “Duo Starts Hawker Centre,” Straits Times, 13 October 1985, 5; Richard Adhikari, “Croc Chop for Lunch, Anyone?” New Nation, 27 April 1977, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Chan, “Shopping Centres Fill a Gnawing Gap”; Violet Oon, “The Fourth-Floor Hawkers,” Straits Times, 26 August 1979, 16; Margaret Chan, “German Specialties, Japanese Fare and Tandoori Chicken,” Straits Times, 8 December 1985, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Matthew Yap, “More Shopping Centres Banking on Hawkers,” Straits Times, 29 September 1986, 11; Natalin Ling, “Anything From Laksa to Tempura in Paradise,” Straits Times, 18 April 1985, 3 (From NewspaperSG); Huang Lijie, “A Different Court-Ship.”
11. “How Food Halls Are Tempting the Hungry Investors”; Yap, “More Shopping Centres Banking on Hawkers”; “Shopping Centres Watching Success of Scotts Food Court,” Straits Times, 8 December 1985, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Monica Gwee, “Picnic Goes Down Well,” Business Times, 26 April 1986, 6 (From NewspaperSG); Chan, “Shopping Centres Fill a Gnawing Gap”; Elaine Misonzhnik, “Return of the Mall,” Retail Traffic 40, no. 3 (June 2011). (From ProQuest Central via NLB’s eResources website)
13. “How Food Halls Are Tempting the Hungry Investors.”
14. Chua Minyi, “Mee Pok, Chilli, One Bowl, Halal Please,” Straits Times, 31 March 2002, 30. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Teo Pau Lin, “Dishing Out Nostalgia,” Straits Times, 19 October 2005, 4 (From NewspaperSG); Huang, “A Different Court-Ship”; Siow Li Sen, “Japan Foods Opens Theme Food Court,” Business Times, 13 April 2009, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Mustafa Shafawi and Rachel Kelly, “New Eco-Friendliness Certification for Food Courts,” Today, 20 January 2011, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Teh Shi Ning, “Food-Court Segment Shows Steady, Significant Improvement,” Business Times, 27 November 2012, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
18. “Enforcement For Table Littering At Hawker Centres Starts 1 September 2021,” National Environment Agency, press release, 30 August 2021.

Further resources
Chong Choon Yee, “Hands-On for Success,” Streats, 13 November 2003, 12. (From NewspaperSG)

Desmond Ng, “Yes, Plus This $16,000 Carriage,” New Paper, 28 October 2006, 6. (From NewspaperSG)

Foo Jie Ying and Jennifer Dhanaraj, “Courting Foodies,” New Paper, 1 May 2011, 22–23. (From NewspaperSG)

Gloria Li, Nikki Yeung, and Shannon Ong, “A Relentless Appetite for Perfection,” Business Times, 19 October 2010, 17. (From NewspaperSG)

Hazel Tan, “Tasty Meals Under One Roof,” Straits Times, 9 November 2014, 16. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at September 2023 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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