By Lim Woei Lin
STALL owners at the extended wing of the North Spine Food Court have complained of poor business, citing low foot traffic and students being unaware of the location.
Located on the second level of the North Spine Plaza, the North Spine Food Court — also known as Canteen A — consists of a main wing with 13 stalls selling mainly local delicacies. The smaller extended wing, which opened in 2014, supports six stalls, including Japanese and Western stalls.
To reach the extended wing, students need to walk through the main wing and down a short corridor, or take the elevator from the first level.
Ms Wendy Goh, an employee at Western stall Hot Potato Cafe and Grill, said: “Our business is not as good as the main wing as they have a staircase leading to the main door of the canteen.”
“Not many students use the lift, and we only get stray customers who cross the main wing to get to us,” she added.
Hot Potato Cafe and Grill, which has been operating at the extended wing for about two years, sees an average of 300 customers a day.
An employee working at a Chinese stall in the main wing, who declined to be named, told the Nanyang Chronicle that her stall “easily” sees more than 300 customers daily.
Stall owners from the extended wing said their busiest hours are during lunchtime. When the Chronicle visited the extended wing at 1pm on a Monday, almost all seats were occupied.
But a visit during non-peak hours, between 3pm and 5pm, saw only nine students at the extended wing, while at least 50 were dining in the main wing.
“Students do not know of the extended wing unless they happen to walk over. We survive on regular customers,” added Ms Goh.
Limited seating capacity at the extended wing also plagues stall owners. The North Spine Food Court has an overall seating capacity of nearly 2,000, but there are only about 140 seats in the extended wing.
An employee at the Vietnamese Cuisine stall, who declined to be named, said: “During lunchtime, both wings can be packed, and those who cannot find seats here may choose not to purchase their food as it is not convenient. The main wing has more seats so it is more advantageous for them.”
She said her stall sees an average of only 200 customers daily.
Some stall owners said they have raised the issue to the University management before, but have not been informed if any actions have been taken.
Most of them hope to see more signboards put up to direct students to the extended wing.
“Even if no one brought the issue up to the managers, they should know of the poorer foot traffic and business that we suffer. The problem is so obvious,” said an employee at Xi‘an Cuisine, who only wanted to be known as Mr Liu.
“Nothing has been done, and I also do not know if anything can be done to improve the situation,” he added, speaking in Mandarin.
Currently, only a sign on a pillar located near the back of the main wing directs students to head down the corridor for more food options.
In response to the Chronicle’s queries, North Spine Food Court manager Jackson Loy said he did not see any problem with business in the extended wing, and that “students are aware of both wings”.
Chief Housing & Auxiliary Services Officer Jimmy Lee said: “Sales at North Spine Food Court continue to be brisk and we have even received a request from the Students’ Union to have more seats.” He declined to provide further information in the meantime.
Most students whom the Chronicle spoke to said they were aware of the extended wing, though it took some time before they found out about it.
National Institute of Education (NIE) postgraduate student Bettina Liang, 28, said she only discovered the extended wing by accident after eating at the main wing daily for three weeks. This happened when she sprained her ankle and was forced to take the elevator up, which led her to the corridor connecting the two wings.
“I would probably have discovered the extended wing someday since I tend to have my meals at NIE or North Spine. But its location is hard to find,” she said.
Despite eating at Canteen A at least twice a week since 2014, third-year School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering student Jamie Lim said she was unaware of the extended wing’s existence.
The 22-year-old said: “I’ll usually buy from the yong tau foo or chicken rice stalls, which are at the front of the main wing. People seated at the front wouldn’t discover the extended wing at the back and some students don’t have time to walk to the back too.”
Others, such as second-year School of Humanities and Social Sciences student Xu Yan, 21, have become regular patrons of the stalls in the extended wing.
She said: “It is more troublesome getting to the extended wing, but I like the food sold here better.
“It’s also quieter due to the lack of crowds, which makes it better for studying. I can focus on my work while having lunch at the same time.”