SINGAPORE: Drawn like bees to honey, hungry customers wait in line patiently.
It is about 10am on Monday (Apr 15) and the promise of crispy curly fries, coney dogs topped with chunky relish and frosted mugs filled with frothy root beer seems more tantalising than anything else on offer at Jewel Changi Airport.
At least 50 people are in the queue, and American fast-food chain A&W's only outlet in Singapore hasn't even opened for the day.
"Today’s the fifth day (since the outlet opened) and perhaps one of the longest queues I’ve ever seen," said Mr Kelvin Tan, A&W International's director of marketing and communication.
"It’s unique to us at this moment where we are really the longest queue in Jewel now," he told CNA.
"We’re glad to have customers who truly are very patient with us and have been adopting the view that good food deserves the wait."
It is a wait that has spanned 16 years for many of A&W's die-hard fans.
A&W – which stands for Allen and Wright – made its debut in Singapore in 1966 at Dunearn Road, and the first A&W drive-through opened in 1970 at Bukit Timah Road. But after decades in Singapore, the fast-food chain decided to pull out of the country in 2003, with five outlets then.
This time, A&W is here to stay, insisted Mr Tan. And very soon, it plans to open a second outlet in Singapore.
"The outlet will be open in the next one-and-a-half to two months – in June," Mr Tan told CNA.
He declined to reveal more details, saying only that it will be located at a "very high traffic location".
"After opening here, we wanted to be able to scale in such a speed where it would ease off the crowd at the first outlet," said Mr Tan. "It’s not that we come unprepared, we know that there's going to be a huge crowd."
There are also plans to add a third outlet by 2020, he said.
Beyond opening new outlets, A&W also wants to cater to various segments of the local market, said Mr Tan. It has "every intention" of submitting its application to the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) for halal-certification.
"The Muslim community formed a very big chunk of our business (in the past) and I think right now we will continue to respect and recognise that this particular market is very important to us," said Mr Tan.
"From the start, when developing the menu, we always wanted to make it halal, but obviously we need to get the restaurant to open first - we are in the process - meaning to say we have every intention to submit our application to MUIS.
"We're hoping that the crowd will ease out a bit and then we will get them to come in (and do an audit)," said Mr Tan.
"Right now, we would like consumers to know that it’s a Muslim friendly menu, no pork no lard, and as soon as we can find the time to submit our application to MUIS, we will do so immediately."
On the timing of its return to Singapore, A&W said the opening of Jewel gave it an opportunity to make its comeback.
"We’ve been receiving a lot of requests from our fans all over the world to bring it back to Singapore," said Ms Sally See, A&W International's manager of business development.
"With the opening of Jewel, we found it very timely to do it together."
In fact, fans wanted the fast-food chain back so badly that they set up a Facebook page dedicated to A&W Singapore when news broke of a possible return, added Mr Tan.
MORE THAN JUST FAST FOOD
A "hybrid" between fast food and casual dining, the A&W Jewel Changi outlet aims to serve as an "incubator" for menu innovations and service design.
For one, this means that in addition to the traditional all-american classics, regional favourites such as the "golden aroma chicken" from A&W's Malaysian and Indonesian outlets and the "waffle sundae" from A&W's Thai outlets are available.
"We have tweaked the menu so that it appeals to a wider group of customers," said Mr Tan. "We have brought in menu items that have done well in overseas markets to Singapore. We still have our classics but have added new things to appeal to a wider crowd."
The Singapore outlet is not run as a franchise, but is managed directly by A&W Restaurants.
"We could have easily gone for a franchising concept … but as a company-owned store, it offers us greater control over what we want to do for the menu," Mr Tan explained.
There is also an increased emphasis on the quality of food rather than the speed at which it comes out of the kitchen, he added.
A&W's burgers and coney dogs are put together only after the orders are sent to the kitchen, rather than being pre-assembled. The same applies for its root beer, which is served to order.
"Unlike the typical fast food concept where you place an order and you immediately expect your food to be served to you right and then, it’s a slightly different concept that we are hoping to explore for this market – especially in Jewel Changi Airport, where we expect the crowd to be a little bit more international, where expectations are higher," Mr Tan said.
After Jewel Changi Airport's preview period, A&W will open 24 hours a day.
As queues continue to form, Mr Tan and Ms See remain confident that the chain will not lose its appeal among Singaporeans in the coming years.
"What we have is a very good brand, a very good team already in place and we’ll be rolling out promotions and customer engagement programmes to help us bring in the millennials," said Mr Tan. "We have a very good strategy in place to make sure that this brand will continue to thrive for a long time to come."