How Do Kopi Uncles And Aunties Make Money
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Ever Wondered How Kopi Uncles And Aunties Make Money?

3 min read

Is Your Memory Better Than A Drink Stall Aunty Or Uncle?

Kopi auntie with fanny pack

Image Source: Vimeo

I remember going out with my family, over Chinese New Year, to dinner at a nearby kopitiam where we filled one of those large tables that you usually see being reserved for zi char stall customers.

After we got comfortable, the drinks stall aunty came over and took our massive 10-person drink order (without taking notes) which included everything from kopi o siew dai to canned green tea and housemade barley.

Not surprisingly, she managed to get every order right and even delivered them to the correct person.

While these individuals’ actual job title vary from coffeeshop runners to kopi kia. Singaporeans know them affectionately as Kopi Aunty or Uncle, depending on their gender.

And they’re usually armed with:

  • a “close to photographic” memory
  • an extremely loud voice, and
  • a unique dress code that usually comprises of a fanny pack

Their mission? To take your drink order and have it accurately delivered to you within the shortest time possible.

Dress code for kopi auntie or uncleImage Source: nookmag

This got me thinking…


How Much Does A Kopitiam Kopi Aunty/Uncle Actually Earns?

We did a little digging to find out how much these Kopi Aunties earn and what motivates them to actively be on a hunt for tables without any drinks on them.

Interesting enough, the way a coffeeshop’s drink stall operates is very much like a sales team, where the Kopi Aunties and Uncles are their salespeople.

Here’s a breakdown of how the Kopi Aunties and Uncles are being paid:

  • A typical coffee shop hires at least two coffee shop runners who work 8 to 12 hours a day with only 2 rest days every month
  • A coffeeshop runner receives a basic monthly salary of about $900 to $1,200

For every drink that these runners manage to sell, they’ll receive a bonus.

Here’s an illustration of how this bonus works and the reason behind that ubiquitous fanny pack:

How Do Kopi Uncles And Aunties Make Money

  1. You order a cup of kopi o (black coffee with sugar) from the Kopi Aunty
  2. The kopitian sells the beverage to the Kopi Aunty at a price of $1, which she will pay for at the counter
  3. When she comes back to you with your drink, she’ll charge you $1.20 for the same drink
  4. She effectively earns $0.20 from selling and serving you, your coffee

Assuming a 12-hour shift with 10 orders per hour, this gives her a $24 bonus income per day. For a month of 30 days, that will be $720 a month on average.

“What’s with fanny pack?” you ask?

Fanny Pack The Rock

It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?

It’s to carry all that change she needs as the intermediate between customers and the kopitiam drinks stall.

Just in case you’re wondering if Kopi Aunties and Uncles can artificially inflate their prices in order to benefit from a larger profit margin. The price of drinks to be sold to customers at a coffee shop has already been agreed upon between the Kopi Aunty/Uncle and the kopitiam drinks stall owner.

So the only way they can get more bonus income is by plying you with more drinks. Or somehow get you to want to buy more beverages from them.


What If I Choose To Skip The Kopi Aunty And Uncle, And Get My Drink Straight From The Drinks Stall?

Kopi Uncle

For the impatient or just plain thirsty, who choose to head straight to the drinks stall to order your drink, you’ll still be charged $1.20 for that same cup of kopi o.

If you’re going “Simi?!” or “Why?!”

The only difference here is that the kopitiam drinks stall owner does not need to give a cut to the Kopi Aunty or Uncle. So for those who think that you can game the system and save $0.20 off your coffee. Sorry hor…


How Much Can A Coffee Shop Drink Stall Earn?

This got us thinking even further.

If you spend most of your time getting your caffeine fix at kopitiams – like us, because we’re cheapo like that – you’ll notice that almost all kopitiam drink stalls are owned by the coffee shop owners themselves. Whereas the rest of the stalls are rented out to other vendors.

This also means that the drink stall is probably one of the most lucrative businesses in the coffee shop. Otherwise, wouldn’t the owners have also rented out the drinks stall business?

Think About It
Image Credit: imgflip

We went on to do a bit of calculation.

Let’s assume that a coffee shop has a maximum capacity of 50 customers. And because it’s really popular (maybe the nasi lemak stall is damn power or something) the average turnover rate is about 30 minutes.  If this kopitiam operates for 12 hours a day, that means we’re looking at 24 × 50 = 1,200 customers daily.

We’re also going to assume that every one of the 50 customers orders one can of Coca Cola each, and that the kopitiam gets their supply from NTUC Fairprice (they definitely have way cheaper suppliers).

12 Pack Can Of Coca Cola
Image source: NTUC Fairprice

The price of a 12-can pack of Coca Cola from NTUC Fairprice is $9.05. And if the kopitiam sells one can of cola at $1.50 each:

Cost price of 1 can of CokeRevenue from selling 1 can of CokeProfit
$0.76$1.50$0.74

At a profit of $0.74 per can of Coca Cola, that 1,200 customers will account for $888 profit each day. And for a month with 30 days, that’s $26,640!

(Writer’s note: I am resigning and going to become a drinks stall owner.)

(Editor’s note: You don’t anyhow.)

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