Sep 29, 2014

    Enticing deals to reel in CBD diners

    MANAGEMENT consultant Abel Lim and his colleagues dine like kings on workdays.

    Lunch might be big portions of good Thai food for $9.90 from Modern Thai restaurant Folks Collective at China Square Central, or they might have pasta, fish and meat dishes priced between $8++ and $12++ at Italian restaurant &Sons.

    He has only an hour for lunch, so he finds it easy to make his way from his office in Cross Street to China Square Central, where almost all the restaurants offer some enticing deal or other.

    He says: "Convenience is most important so that I don't have to walk too far or queue for too long. The food also shouldn't be too expensive. I won't pay more than $15 for a meal."

    Like him, many savvy executives in the Central Business District have to make the most of their one-hour lunch break, which includes having a satisfying yet valuefor-money meal.

    Tapping into the psyche of the busy executives, business owners are pulling out all the stops with irresistible dining deals to get such diners into their restaurants and cafes.

    Even The Westin Singapore at Asia Square Tower 2 is jumping on the bandwagon at its 40-seat deli Daily Treats.

    For just $8 nett, diners can get lunch combos with a choice of pasta, sandwich or laksa, with a fresh fruit salad or drink. Contrast this with standing in long queues and sweating it out at the non-air-conditioned Lau Pa Sat nearby, where pasta dishes cost $7.90 and sandwiches are priced at about $5.50 without a drink.

    Noting the fierce competition in the area, The Westin Singapore's general manager, Lance Ourednik, says: "The concept behind Daily Treats is to offer quality food and beverages that reflect The Westin's upscale image.

    "At the same time, we offer value for money and want to encourage repeat business. With limited time for lunch, customers are looking for a fuss-free and quick approach, and that would be reason for them to return."

    The casual, lobby-level restaurant with outdoor seating has been packed since the promotion started in June.

    Business is also brisk for many restaurant owners rolling out dining deals.

    Beppe De Vito, owner of the ilLido Group, which owns casual bar-restaurant &Sons, notes that its Big Plates Lunch menu was immediately popular when it was launched in June.

    He says: "On average, we receive about 300 diners for lunch every day. Many of our customers who come for lunch have become regulars who also come for mid-afternoon breaks, dinner and after-work drinks."

    Business owners hope that these almost too-good-to-be-true deals will hook customers and entice them to keep going back even after the promotions end.

    Over at The Arcade, Ashley Chen's drinks deal at her Sincerely Yours cafe is a strategy designed to appeal to workers who need frequent caffeine fixes.

    Early birds who buy a drink between 7am and 11am get 50 per cent off their second drink purchased after 1pm. She says: "Some customers drink more than one cup of coffee a day. So it's good value for them to return for their second cup.

    Jewel Coffee's owner Adrian Khong, 45, who recently ran a $2 latte promotion, said it brought in "about 5,000 people over six days, and has more than doubled our daily traffic ever since".

    He will be offering a $1 croissant with each coffee purchased from next Monday till Friday.

    However, some business owners have become cautious about being too liberal with fantastic deals, knowing that customers can be fickle and the deals might backfire.

    Joseph Wong of 63Celsius at Asia Square runs an ongoing $10-a-glass house Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir deal that rotates every two months. He also offered a $3 coffee promotion for six months to build brand recognition.

    He says: "Is the perception of 'too good' tantamount to 'too cheap'? Would diners question the integrity of the ingredients? I think CBD premium customers know how to enjoy a good deal when it is presented to them. But whether the food and beverage operator can continue trading on skinny margins is another question."

    Sarah Lim, senior lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic's business school, says: "Such deals are good on a short-term basis to create awareness, but cannot be sustained in the long run, especially when you have fierce competition.

    "You cannot stop the next restaurant from doing a better deal.

    "Also, if you are perceived as a restaurant that sells cheap food, it is hard for you to move up after your promotion is over... I think the No. 1 thing for the food and beverage scene is quality. So, even if your food is dirt cheap, if it is bad, diners won't go back."

    Three Hands Coffee, which moved last month from Binjai Park to One Marina Boulevard, rolled out opening promotions to attract diners. It sold coffee for $1 for two mornings when it opened, and is pricing them at $3 this month.

    Owner Karen Lim says: "We did the promotions as we are new to the area. It has brought us repeat customers so far.

    "We may not continue the offers next month, so that we can see whether customers return."

    Jane Ong, 32, a consultant with a recruitment company, who works at Suntec City, dines frequently in the CBD with her friends, particularly in Asia Square.

    She says: "The Westin has a nice ambience, so I would definitely try its set lunch. But if it doesn't taste good, $8 doesn't mean a thing.

    "Service and food quality are more important factors. To some extent, I will pay attention to the deals. Any discounts are a plus."

    Shally Koh, 45, who works in the banking industry, notes that price points are a key factor.

    She says: "People try not to spend more than $10. If I open a shop in the CBD, I think I would just charge $8."