I had this interesting conversation with an acquaintance of mine the other day. He noticed that when it comes to places to eat, restaurants which seem more posh have a tendency to go bust not long after opening, while as Mamak stalls or restaurants seem to last forever. This begs the question, what makes a mamak restaurant so successful?
One interesting theory put forward by my friend is that in restaurants that seem posh, customers have this feeling that “this place must be expensive” and therefore try to avoid it while in mamak restaurants where simple dining tables and chairs are used, people come to eat there in droves. But here’s the messed up part, the prices are pretty much the same. Nowadays, I would not say that mamak food is the cheapest in town, in fact it is pretty expensive at times.Well, I agree with it to a certain degree, but I would like to add on the “conspiracy theories” why these mamak restaurants are so successful.
Let me give you a case study based on real events. For Taman Melawati residents, you probably know there used to be a Bangi Kopitiam there in the business area which has closed down and replaced with an even more kiasu priced cafe. There is also a mamak restaurant called Al-Hilmi nearby.
The story goes that the Bangi Kopitiam had quite a a lot of customers. Go there on a Saturday night, and you wont get a seat. It’s a comfortable place with a retro atmosphere and free Wi-Fi. Then one day, without any warning, it closed down.
This is a typical scene in a Bangi Kopitiam, with wooden chairs and pretty heavy tables. This is not the Taman Melawati one, but its pretty much the same as it’s a franchise. Its really nice to have meetings here, which I do quite often when it was open.
This on the other hand is a typical scene at a Mamak restaurant. This is not Restaurant Al Hilmi but its a similar scene. yet in the past 5 years this restaurant managed to grow from a restaurant occupying 1 shop lot to a 2 shop lot restaurant. It’s not even 24 hours on top of that.
So how do 2 different restaurants in the same area have so different fates? What makes the Mamak triumph over the Bangi Kopitiam? Apart from the theory my friend came up with, here are some of the theories I came up with.
I once read an article about why a lot of locals are unemployed. One of the case studies was about a Malay guy working in a mamak restaurant lamenting about how his RM500 salary in the restaurant was not even enough for him to survive. So, from that article, we know that they pay their workers only RM500 per month! But you might be asking who would work for RM500? Easy. They bring in migrant workers from India. Give them a place to stay and food to eat, and somehow you have “the right” to pay them RM500 per month. You see, a lot of these migrant workers come here with the sole purpose to save up enough money to bring back and live comfortably in their own country. So, sacrificing comfort and freedom for 3-5 years is nothing, as long as you can save up money to bring back home.
Adaptability to customers taste
Have you ever seen the menu of a mamak restaurant? they have almost everything, from Indian food, Malay food to Western food. In Al-Hilmi’s case, they managed to taylor make their menu to suit the taste of the working Malay majority customers in the area, which really gained them popularity. Try having lunch at Bangi Kopitiam….
Although not perfect (sometimes they do forget your order), but if the boss knows about the mistake, see him whack that guy to pulp. Jokes aside, generally your order will arrive pretty fast, although it will pass by the wrong tables on the way to yours.
The Mamaking culture
Ask any Malaysian and you will find out that people don’t always go to mamak for the food. There are a few other reasons namely, for football, midnight snack 3am in the morning, and also as a really casual, open aired place to hang out and chat with friends. I think the mamak restaurants have perfected the lepaking culture with having Astro and shisha on the side and turned it into a mamaking culture. I mean, we seldom see a mamak restaurant without astro and shisha right?
So, these are my to sens worth of opinion. What do you think as a Malaysian. You may share your thoughts in the comment section below.