Monday, October 17, 2016

Visiting VendCafe, Singapore's First Vending Machine Cafe

It's getting much easier to buy food. You can have it delivered, you can get it from convenience stores and now, you can get it from vending machines. Recently, Chef In Box, a company specialising in pre-packed vending machine food across the island, opened VendCafe, Singapore's first vending machine cafe in Sengkang. Here's the scoop.

What is VendCafe?

VendCafe is an autonomously-operated vending machine cafe located at a Sengkang HDB flat void deck. The cafe has vending machines that sells drinks, snacks, orange juice and hot drinks. The star attraction of the cafe are the machines that sell hot Asian and Western food.

The cafe was opened in early August to much fanfare. On the first week, people queued up for hours just to have a go at the experience of purchasing hot vending machine food. The launch also marks the start of a smarter and leaner F&B industry as these cafes don't have to worry about manpower, rental and service issues.

Drinks & Snacks

Drinks and snacks are essential at all cafes and it's no different at VendCafe. Drinks are of the standard bottled and canned drinks while the snacks range from sandwiches to brownie bars to chips. Unlike other machines, this has an easy-to-use touchscreen for you to select your items. Pay using cash or contactless payments if you wish.

For the snack vending machine, just like a smart locker, you just need to select your item and a selected "locker" will open up for you to get your snack. It's cool, it's different and it's very innovative indeed. Need to heat up your snacks? A communal microwave oven is right behind.

An Orange Juice Machine

Vending machines that dispense bottled orange juice are so last year. Now, there are machines that freshly squeeze oranges in front of you so that you can get the freshest cup of orange juice you can ever get. With the window, you can watch the whole process and believe me, it's pretty entertaining to watch it.

Once all the juice have been squeezed out of the fruit, the cup will be sealed up ready for your enjoyment. Take note that it may be a little on the sour side as it's not sweetened and that's when you know how fresh and healthy it is.

A Hot Beverage Machine

Not a fan of bottled or canned drinks or the freshly squeezed orange juice? No problem. A hot beverage may be the one for you. Similar to what you can find at hospitals, this machine dispenses delicious hot drinks like tea, coffee or even a fancy latte just for you. Not bad for a small mighty machine. As a bonus, if you don't have cash with you, you can use your EZ-Link card to pay for it.

The Main Attraction

Now comes the main attraction, the hot food vending machines. Take your pick as there's two choose from. One that serves Asian food like Seafood Hor Fun and Nasi Briyani while the other serves Western delights like Creamy Chicken Spaghetti and Salted Egg Yolk Pasta.

Using the machine was confusing initially but you will get used to it after a while. First, add in your money. You can use good old cash or contactless payments. Mobile payments like Apple Pay are also accepted making it one of the first vending machines to accept mobile payments.

Waiting For The Food

You get to choose whether you want your food to be hot or frozen. If you want to eat it later, choose the Frozen option and heat it up in your microwave when you're ready. Otherwise, the Hot option will suffice as you can consume it immediately with the provided dining area.

After selecting your food, in this case, I chose Creamy Chicken Spaghetti, a countdown timer will show up to give you an estimate on how long you need to wait for your meal. While waiting, entertain yourself with a video on how one of their signature dishes is being prepared. A small box of plastic cutleries will eventually be dispensed along with your food, fresh from the machine.

Tasting Hot Vending Machine Food

The food resembles the microwaveable food found at 7-Eleven. For Chef In Box, their claim is that the food is frozen and heats up on demand to ensure freshness and quality. Plus, they also claim that their food is prepared by their in-house chefs.

The noodles were springy and the sauce was very creamy and cheesy. Tastewise, you get what you pay for and don't expect it to taste like restaurant quality food. But it was not bad and the price was worth it indeed.

Why VendCafe Is The Future of Food and Convenience?

VendCafe aims to be a model of food and convenience in the future. Just head downstairs, get your hot food and there you go, mission accomplished. There's no need to worry about manpower, rental and service standards. For a typical food outlet to flourish, there needs to be a balance of the three factors mentioned otherwise it's hard to stand out in the cutthroat F&B business.

Then there's home deliveries. That too has its challenges like the lack of delivery riders. That's where concepts like VendCafe comes it. Location for now, may not be that accessible but as more VendCafes pop up, that may not be a problem soon.

Disadvantages to the VendCafe

The VendCafe may have it's ups but it has its downs as well. The location, as mentioned earlier, is inaccessible to most people for now except for residents living around the area. Second, the health factor. Singaporeans are getting more and more health conscious so it will be great if the machines include healthier options apart from the standard dishes.

These vending machine food also has a perception of it being unhealthy. They have a perception that the food has lots of salt, MSG and sugar since it has to "preserve" the flavours. Whether or not that's true, balance is the key to a healthier lifestyle.


Overall, VendCafe is indeed a very cool unique concept with their range of hot foods, snacks, orange juice and more for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you don't mind the location, the experience of eating vending machine food at a HDB void deck is indeed interesting and unique.

The exact location is at Blk 320C, Anchorvale Drive. Hopefully, more VendCafes will pop around the island to give more Singaporeans a taste of this interesting concept.

Getting Here

Bus services available: 371 (Bus stop along Anchorvale Drive outside Blk 321 CP)

Nearest MRT station: NE16/STC Sengkang MRT/LRT Station (North East Line/Sengkang LRT Line)



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