SINGAPORE - The little sign that says "No Outside Food Allowed" is a common sight in many bars in Singapore.
Food from other establishments is frowned upon by many bars here, but a handful of drinking holes have thrown this rule out the window. Chowing down on zi char dishes such as fried rice and har cheong chicken wings at a posh wine bar is possible, as some savvier bars are allowing their patrons to order bar bites and meals from neighbouring restaurants.
Some even go as far as to serve the dishes the same way you would have them at the restaurant.
Bar owners offering this service tell Life!Weekend they do it as a value-added service for customers who want something that their eateries' kitchens cannot whip up, and to make the experience comfortable enough for patrons to enjoy the evening and keep going back.
Only a few bars offer this service, notes a spokesman for the Les Amis Group, which runs wine bar Caveau Wines & Bar on Scotts Road.
Caveau allows patrons to order food from their sister restaurants along the same stretch at Shaw Centre, at no additional cost.
The spokesman said: "It is either these bars have their own mini kitchens serving very simple food or we have heard of a wine bar ordering local food from a neighbouring zi char store. I guess, at the end of the day, we all try to serve our customers better and offer them a different experience."
Bills are settled at the bar, and some bars even waive service tax, which means it can sometimes work out cheaper to eat at the bar than at the actual restaurant.
Bar owners say it a "win-win situation" for all as it also translates to more business for their neighbouring tenants.
Life!Weekend found at least five bars which offer this service: The Quaich Bar in Havelock Road; quarubar in Frankel Avenue; Taberna Wine Academy and Bar at Binjai Park; Valle Bar Cafe at Ridgewood Close and Caveau Wines & Bar at Shaw Centre.
At whisky store Quaich Bar, co-owner Chua Khoon Hui, 38, says he has been allowing his patrons to order from neighbouring Japanese restaurants Nanjya Monjya and Nagae, as well as Italian restaurant Pontini, since the bar opened six years ago.
Mr Chua, who has customers ordering food from these restaurants every night, says: "Our kitchen is small and we're more of a whisky specialist. We have fantastic restaurants next to us, and Japanese food goes well with whisky, so it's just an additional service for the customers."
The menus for each of the restaurants are available for the bar patrons, and staff from the Japanese restaurants even walk over to the bar to take orders in person, and serve the food as it is done in their restaurant.
Similarly, wine academy Taberna at Binjai Park, which has a bar but no kitchen to serve hot food, allows patrons to order food from four neighbouring restaurants, including Hup Choon Tze Char restaurant. Taberna's owner, Mr Tan Ying Hsien, 51, says he started offering the service when they opened in 2010 due to space constraints.
Mr Tan, who notes that Taberna does not offer anything beyond cheese platters and cold cuts, says: "It saved me the bother of having to install grease traps and a proper kitchen, and it's also an opportunity to develop a relationship with the neighbours. We want to make it as convenient as possible for our customers."
They may charge a $3 service fee a person, but Taberna's staff take the orders for food, arrange the pick-up and delivery, and replate the food for their patrons. There is no additional service tax.
Taberna has also consolidated menus from all neighbouring restaurants into one for their customers' convenience.
Mr Tan quips: "So if you want to eat zi char in an air-conditioned environment, you can come here."
At Valle Bar Cafe, which specialises in craft beer and cider, owner Travis Lin, 34, says it works to his benefit to allow patrons to order food from nearby eateries, even if he has a bar menu offering homemade pizzas and buffalo wings.
Mr Lin, who has offered the service since Valle opened three years ago, says: "I have a big outdoor area that can seat up to 60 people and my patrons consist of a lot of expats who like to chill outside and have beers. They gave me the idea, let them have food here, and they'll buy drinks. The restaurants earn, and I earn."
Patrons at Valle can order Thai food from E-Sarn Thai Cuisine, ice cream from Haato or roast chicken from Poulet Vous, all located within the same residential neighbourhood in Ridgewood Close.
The menu cross-over works both ways too: Customers at the other three eateries can have beer and cider delivered to them from Valle. Patrons appreciate the bar owners going the extra mile in service, saying that it makes things more convenient and fuss free, and encourages them to linger at the bar for a longer period.
Ms Daylin Koh, 35, a housewife, and her husband Adrian Cheng, 37, who runs his own manufacturing business, are regular patrons at the Quaich Bar and enjoy the fact that they can order food from other restaurants.
Ms Koh says: "It's convenient for us, and the food arrives quickly, never taking more than half an hour. The Japanese food also goes very well with the whisky we drink ."
Briton Simon French, 57, who runs a fragrance consultancy and frequents Valle Bar Cafe around three times a week, says: "I live at Ridgewood so it's very convenient for me to be able to order food from neighbouring restaurants. The service, which is quite unique, encourages me to go there and the place has got a nice atmosphere."
Options for bar bites
Quaiche Bar (The Whisky Store)
Food options: Nagae Japanese restaurant, Nanjya Monjya Japanese restaurant and Pontini Italian restaurant. Full service from both Japanese restaurants - their staff will go over to take customers' orders and serve meals.
Where: Waterfront Plaza, 01-09/10, 390A Havelock Road Open: 5pm to 1am (Sundays to Thursdays) and 5pm to 2am (Fridays and Saturdays) Tel: 6732-3452
Valle Bar Cafe
Food options: E-Sarn Thai Cuisine, ice cream from Haato and French restaurant Poulet Vous.
Where: Unit G6, 5 Ridgewood Close Open: 4 to 10.30pm (Mondays to Fridays) and 3 to 10.30pm (Saturdays and Sundays)
Caveau Wines & Bar
Food options: Order from a specially prepared bar and tapas menu from casual French restaurant Bistro Du Vin. Patrons can also order dishes from the regular menus at Bistro Du Vin, French restaurant Les Amis and Japanese restaurant Aoki, but only if they make a special request. Last orders at 9.30pm.
Where: Shaw Centre, 02-10, 1 Scotts Road Open: 9am to midnight (Mondays to Thursdays), 9am to 1am (Fridays and Saturdays) and 5pm to midnight (Sundays)
Taberna Wine Acedemy and Bar
Food options: Hup Choon Tze Char restaurant, Ivin's Peranakan restaurant, Peperoni pizzeria and Capri Italian restaurant.
Where: 17 Binjai Park Open: 5pm to midnight daily
Food options: Different Taste Restaurant & Cafe (zi char restaurant) next door.
Where: 113 Frankel Avenue Open: 4pm to 1am daily
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