How to avoid getting ripped off on Christmas dinner in Singapore

PHOTO: Natalie Png

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Christmas is said to bring out the best in people. Sometimes, that means bringing out the best in profiteers as well.

Due to the huge influx of Christmas offers, discounts, and special menu items, it can be hard to sort out the real deals from a well-disguised rip-off. Whether you're catering for a party or dining out, here are some things Singaporeans should watch for to avoid getting ripped off on a Christmas meal.

1. Christmas buffets aren't always worth it

Most Christmas buffets are priced way above the norm. If a regular buffet is around S$40 per head, the Christmas version will probably be S$60 per head (sometimes even more). This may seem like a steal considering the Christmas foods put out, but here's the kicker: you would probably spend less eating a set meal rather than paying for a buffet.

The reason is the nature of Christmas foods. Christmas turkey, ham, and yule cakes are especially rich and filling foods because what you're having is a winter meal. The odds of someone eating enough of these to make the most of the S$60 per head price is improbable.

14 places to go to for Christmas 2016

  • Hearty Italian Christmas fare takes centre stage in the three-course festive menus. For lunch ($49.90++ a person), mains include seabass with steamed mussels in a chilli, fennel and garlic broth and wild mushroom pappardelle. For dinner ($65.90++), tuck into mains such as Gennaro's porchetta, pork belly with a blend of chilli, fennel, orange zest, apricot, apple and herbs.
  • Celebrate Christmas British gastro-pub style with the Christmas set menu ($85++ a person) for both lunch and dinner. Highlights include roast turkey with chestnut stuffing and cranberry; and stuffed belly of Dingley Dell pork with braised savoy cabbage and custard sauce.
  • Hearty modern European classics are served in the three-course Festive Set Lunch ($46++), with mains such as quail with braised chestnuts and chestnut espuma. For Christmas Eve Dinner (from $108++ a person), dig into Magret duck breast perfumed with lavender-scented glaze, and sauteed brill with braised Tuscan kale and spiced red wine. Ring in Christmas Day with a brunch (from $98++) which has more than 30 dishes.
  • The Christmas Table d'hote set dinner menu (from $88++ a person), which has three or four courses with dishes such as 150-day grain-fed Black Angus beef tenderloin paired with celery root puree and glazed mushrooms. The Christmas champagne brunch ($128++) has antipasti, pizza and pasta, and a carving station with turkey and black truffle stuffing.
  • The $88++ a person festive menu includes a steamed dim sum platter that has lobster har gow and chicken dumpling with shaved truffle. The $108++ a person menu has a festive platter with barbecued pork and soft shell crab wrapped with salted egg charcoal puff.
  • The Carvery's Black Forest Christmas Feast (from $45 a person) features meat such as crown of roast pork loin glazed with herbs such as marjoram and thyme; and spit-roasted chicken scented by tarragon. The meal is named after Black Forest in Germany because the produce used in the dishes is inspired by the region. Round up the meal with sweets such as Black Forest trifle.
  • Newcomers to the Christmas-themed buffet line at Edge restaurant include a lime and coconut leaf-infused ham and crispy pork belly with sherry vinegar; and turkey sausages studded with ginger bread spices. There is also a raclette cheese station loaded with 30 artisan cheeses and sides such as baby potatoes.
  • Standing out from this year's turkey collection is the roast turkey in salted egg yolk sauce. It is available in the four-course Festive Set menu (from $48++ a person) as Turkey Two Ways - with salted egg yolk sauce; and with herbed cranberry sauce and beetroot mash. The set includes a winter yuzu salad and chocolate lava cake. A highlight in its Christmas Day and Eve buffets is tom yum roast turkey.
  • At Mezza9, the Christmas Eve dinner buffet (from $138++ a person) has an expanded Thai BBQ section that serves gai yang (grilled chicken thighs) and pork loin, and a Western grill section with items such as butterball turkey. There will also be an artisan charcuterie and cheese corner, with cheeses such as mortadella pistachio bologna. The hotel also has four other restaurants with festive buffets.
  • At Basilico, the hotel's Italian restaurant, expect an epicurean line-up for the festive buffets, including 200-day dry-aged angus prime rib and slow-roasted Roman-style porchetta. There is also a burrata cheese station that has up to 10 flavours such as squid ink.
  • The Christmas-themed a la carte menu has more than 10 starters, mains and desserts. A new addition to the starters is the Ratatouille Lasagne ($15), an inventive twist on the stewed vegetable dish. New mains are chicken stuffed with foie gras and chestnut ($26), served with sauteed baby spinach, roasted grenaille potatoes and cranberry relish; and slow braised pork collar ($26). The 12-hour slow-braised pork collar is jazzed up with prune puree, black trumpet mushrooms, chestnut and potato galette.
  • Steer away from the usual Western fare with The CreatureS Unusual Christmas menu, which has 14 items. Innovative dishes include Hainanese Chicken Rice Roll ($20), which has chicken rice rolled with cucumber strips in rice paper; and Har Cheong Pork Collar ($20) that is lathered in fermented shrimp paste. Forget the classic beef stew and dig into the Imperial Creatures ($38), a stew of sea cucumber, fish maw, dried scallops and oysters and fried pork and prawn meatballs. There is also a four-course set menu at $75++ a person.
  • For a British Christmas, go for the three-course Christmas set menu ($45+ a person). Whet your appetite with a creamy chestnut soup before tucking into the Christmas meat platter that includes honey-baked ham, roast beef and roast turkey, pigs in a blanket served with crispy goose-fat roasted potatoes, and Yorkshire pudding. End the meal with a royal berry trifle.
  • Three items have been created for the festive season. The Christmas edition of the cafe's popular Deutsch skillet pancake ($12) is topped with mango compote, vanilla ice cream, cereal crumble, vanilla pod and fresh red currants. There is also a matcha soda ($8) and Turkey Pithivier ($18), which is a pie loaded with sous vide turkey breast, mushrooms and brussel sprouts.

If you want to cut down on the price, consider getting a fixed meal or buying the specific food items from supermarkets. You can probably get a Christmas dinner for S$35 per head or less this way, and you may even have food left over.

You can also try to get a discount by making early reservations or checking if your credit card has any Christmas buffet promotions. For instance, American Express credit cards have a 3-for-2 deal on Christmas buffet at the Furama Riverfront Hotel, and 10 per cent off buffet at Carousel.

Best restaurants in Singapore for those year-end gatherings

  • Three words - Diamond Sauna Treasures. Available only at the Science Park Drive branch, this dish of legendary proportions is a basket chockfull of yummy seafood like lobster, prawns, mussels, snow crabs, scallops, squid, and clams! The seafood is first par-boiled and then laid out amongst heated stones. Wolfberry stock is then poured over the entire thing to create a steam that cooks the seafood while retaining their sweetness and juiciness.
  • Diamond Kitchen Science Park Drive is located at 87 Science Park Drive, #01-01. Tel. 6464 0410.
  • Who doesn't like pizza?! UK's popular pizza chain PizzaExpress (it's 51 years old!) has opened in Singapore, and the restaurant seats 120 patrons so your department can most likely fit in it. The pizzas there are made fresh on order, the ice lemon tea is free to refill, and the dough balls are super addictive!
  • PizzaExpress is located at Scotts Square, B1-08/09. Tel. 6538 0083.
  • Korean BBQ plus housemade makgeolli equal good times! Eight Korean BBQ has opened its second outlet at Shaw Centre, making it even more convenient to get your grilled meat fix. Love variety? Then you won't go wrong with the signature 8 Colours Set. At $98, the set consists of 8 strips of 100g Mangalitsa pork belly in marinated in 8 flavours such as red wine, miso, curry, and red pepper paste. Also, do try the Big Hog Plate, $45, a glorious slab of Mangalitsa pork belly weighing 350g.
  • Eight Korean BBQ's second outlet is located at Shaw Centre, #04-20. Tel. 9018 9212.
  • The eatery located within Cathay Cineleisure Orchard is proving to be a huge draw for both Thais living in Singapore and Thai-food fans. Yen Ta Fo, a bowl of flat rice noodles drizzled in pink sauce and topped with a myriad of ingredients like fishballs, fried tofu, and a cube of grass jelly (to replace the pig's blood cube you'd find in yen ta fo in Thailand), is reminiscent of "yong tau fu" but the pink sauce is made of fermented red rice and red tofu instead of beans. Also super authentic is the Gai Pad Krapow, spicy basil minced chicken with rice.
  • Yentafo Kruengsonge is located Cathay Cineleisure Orchard, #02-06A. Tel. 6736 0971.
  • If you're working in the City Hall area, make a beeline for the newly opened Ninja Cut. This casual dining spot serves up robust, value-for-money meals that will keep you sated for much longer (no more poking around the office pantry in the afternoon). At Ninja Cuts, choose from a variety of protein such as roast ribeye, crackling pork belly, fillet of cod, and grilled squid served with a base of your choice, be it soba noodles, quinoa, a blend of vinegared Japanese pearl rice, or garden greens. You can also choose to go carb-free, but why would you, when the carbs here are so tasty and nutritious?
  • Ninja Cut is located at 32 Seah Street, Tel: 6264 7727.
  • He or she is always on some new diet or the other, and is constantly espousing the virtues of a meat-free diet. But you love your meat! This friendship doesn't have to wither over food preferences - simply take your friend to Sufood! This popular vegetarian restaurant chain from Taiwan is determined to show diners just how varied and flavourful vegetarian food can be.
  • Sufood is located at #02-19 Raffles City Shopping Centre, Tel: 6333 5338.
  • With the weather getting colder and gloomier as we race towards the end of the year, what can be more comforting than hot, meaty stews: specifically Korean stews from Singapore's first Korean stew restaurant, Masizzim? For a belly-warming meal, we recommend the Spicy Seafood Stew, which you can choose to have with beef or without. Served in a cast-iron pot placed over live flames at the table, this dish is a seafood wonderland - it comes with generous portions of prawns, mussels, crayfish, and an entire squid. Another hot, brothy delight is the Kimchi Beef Rib soup, which is a riff on everybody's favourite kimchi jigae (fermented cabbage stew). Masizzim's version is served with stewed beef ribs, glass noodles, and a large wedge of radish, as well as an egg cracked directly into the pot for that oozy, gooey goodness.
  • Masizzim is located at #B3-02 313 Somerset, Tel: 6509 5808.
  • In celebration of its 10th anniversary, the kitchen team (helmed by Head Chef Antonio Bisogno) have rolled out a slew of updated menu items. Gnocchetti in Salsa di Scampi, Zafferano e Gamberoni is a must-try for seafood lovers. Using a jealously guarded recipe, Chef Bisogno has created a sublime sauce flavoured with scampi, seafood stock, and fragrant saffron. Paired with the knobbly gnocchetti (similar to macaroni), this pasta also comes with generous servings of grilled prawns. Another must-try is the limited-edition Tagliatelle Fatte in Casa con Crema di Melanzane e Cicale. Thick, flat noodles (similar to our local kuey teow, but thicker) are whipped in a savoury, satisfying blend of eggplant, tomato, and basil, and topped with sautéed crayfish. Delizioso!
  • Mondo Mio is located at #01-02A Riverside View, 30 Robertson Quay, Tel: 6736 2503.

2. Your "special order" may be marked-up supermarket food

Around December, you may see "special order" options for honey baked hams, rack of lamb, and so forth. Before agreeing to the (often hefty) price tag, compare prices among supermarkets first.

In reality, restaurants selling theses Christmas foods may have the same suppliers as your local grocer. They just package the food in a nicer box, tie on the ribbon, and throw in a 20 or 30 per cent mark-up. You're mostly paying for brand and packaging.

Unfortunately, supermarkets have caught on as well, and have started to markup the foods the same way restaurants do. But check out your local grocer anyway, in case they don't do this yet.

As an alternative, you can do a late Christmas dinner. If you are on a desperate budget, try having dinner on the 26th or 27th of December - by then the surplus foods will be on discount, as restaurants and supermarkets rush to clear stock.

Subtle ways supermarkets get you to spend more

  • Locating the bakery and/or deli near the front so that those nice baking or cooking smells entice shoppers in to have a bite and shop more. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • Adjust their layout in order to ensure that shoppers pay attention to the items on display.
  • Placing grocery staples like meat, fish, eggs and bread at the back so that shoppers have to walk through the supermarket (and see more products) to get them.
  • Locating the fruits and vegetables right at the entrance as it gives colour and an impression of freshness in order to encourage the shopping mood.
  • In contrast, hypermarkets place the fruits and vegetables at the furthest point from the entrance. This is because they assume customers are there for their weekly or monthly grocery run, and want to make them walk through the entire store to get to these essential foods, and hopefully, pick up other things along the way. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • Hypermarkets usually display current sale items at the entrance, which both increases the convenience for shoppers who are more likely to go to hypermarkets for the lower prices, and puts shoppers in a good mood by giving them a "bargain" early on in the shopping experience, so that they are more amenable to impulse buys as they proceed through the store.
  • Making checkout lanes narrower so that it's more difficult for customers to ditch items at the last minute.
  • Playing slow-tempo music, which influences shoppers to move more slowly and spend more time in the shop. (Fast music does the opposite.)
  • Supermarkets place expensive non-sale items in in the middle of the aisle at eye level. University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, principal research associate Dr Giles Yeo explains that the natural place to stop while shopping tends to be in the middle of the aisle, with the eyes naturally coming to rest on the shelves at eye level. Some vendors actually pay to place their products on that premium shelf space.
  • Another spot that commonly draws attention from shoppers and commands a price for product placement is the section at either end of the aisle. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • Placing products targeted at kids on the lower shelves at their eye level, so that they can see them easily (and pester their parents to buy them). (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • Putting the cheaper and bulk items on the lowest shelves, as people who really want them will purposely look for them.
  • Giving out loyalty cards, which not only keep shoppers coming back, but also enables the store to track what shoppers buy. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • Placing items such as chocolate bars, cookies, chewing gum, soft drinks and batteries at checkout counters to promote impulse buying as you wait in line. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)

3. Sample the ham before you buy them

We don't want to point fingers at any particular company, but Christmas hams in Singapore are a favourite deception. Most shoppers take the seller's word when they are told they are buying smoked Virginia ham or honey-glazed ham. In reality, they may just be buying processed, generic ham that's advertised as something else.

Read also: Where to buy Christmas ham in Singapore for under $70

Some brands are also quite certain that, once you've cut the ham and served it, you'll be too busy or lazy to return it and demand something else. You're too busy preparing dinner to worry about that, and it's hard to claim a refund later when all of your guests have eaten it.

This is why you should see if you can sample the ham before paying for it. If there isn't a sample, buy at your own risk (and take note for future reference).

4. Skip alcohol-related offers in restaurants

Some restaurants have special, alcohol-related promotions during Christmas. Special bottles of champagne, for example, or a two-glasses-for-one promotion. Just remember: alcohol is always significantly marked up in eateries, even when on promotion (the restaurant has to pay a liquor license).

Almost all the time, you are better off eating in the restaurant, and then buying a few bottles from the supermarket and celebrating at home. This is regardless of whatever promotion they have going on (the supermarket will probably have a promotion too).

As an aside, affordable wines or novelty wines tend to proliferate during Christmas. This is because for some families, Christmas and New Year are the only times they drink at home.

9 hacks to cut down on your restaurant dining bill

  • Decide if you're going to sit there and drink, or not. If your intent is to just have one or two glasses of wine, skip it and order another beverage.
  • The mark-up on a per-glass basis is huge, and some restaurants cheat -if you don't see the bottle, they may be pouring you another, cheaper wine. Buying a bottle can shave almost 10 to 15% off the price.
  • If you're nearing the end of your meal, don't be compelled to fork out the gross domestic products of a small country for an overpriced cake and coffee.
  • Take a walk to aid your digestion, and have it somewhere cheaper.
  • Dining with friends? Put the combined bill on a credit card optimised for dining, then collect their share from them in cash. Be sure to pay back the card in full.
  • If you have any cashback or cash rebates from the credit card, you will end up saving significantly in the long run. We recommend the POSB Everyday Card, which gives a 5% cash rebate on dining at all restaurants in Singapore. Yes, you read that right - all restaurants!
  • You're supposed to order a main, but you don't have to. These days, restaurant appetisers are bigger, and often tastier (it's a culinary truth. Appetisers are meant to be heavier on flavour to raise your appetite).
  • You can also consider ordering a series of appetisers, if you are peckish but not starving. In mid-level cafes, this will normally fill you while saving a few dollars.
  • Prepare a compliment for the chef, so you don't need to invent one when you're there. Make it plausibly real by putting in detail.
  • Sometimes you'll luck out and get a complimentary dessert or drink. Otherwise, keep coming regularly and once they get to know you, you're likely to get a freebie eventually. Remember, compliments cost nothing. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • Sometimes, a credit card will offer "special menus" rather than a discount or bonus points. Try to avoid promotions like these - there's a high chance that leftovers or unpopular items are being pushed to you this way.
  • Stick to points and discounts to optimise your card. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • You want to avoid doing this on a first date, it might make you look cheap. But if you're with a buddy, this could help you save money. Simply ask what the biggest main on the menu is, and split that. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • These days some restaurants even have platters that are meant to be shared. These two, four, or sometimes even six-person platters tend to cost much less than having everyone order individually. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • If you are at a buffet, skip over the staple foods like rice, bread, and pasta. These foods will fill you up fast, and you'll end up paying for something you could have had for much less. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • Instead, focus your attention on the goodies - the high grade beef, oysters, fish, etc. This ensures you'll get your money's worth.
  • Here's a plan that also works with dieting: order the right portions, and then ask for the bill immediately after ordering. This will remove the temptation to try out a desert or to add another cola. It also saves you time when you're leaving - just up and go. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)

5. Be wry of "free" delivery for Christmas Orders

Don't be distracted by messages that claim "free" delivery. Always work out the total cost including delivery, and then compare.

This is because many "free" delivery services for Christmas food are often not free at all. Most of the time, the cost of delivery is already worked into the prices. Slight mark-ups on the menu options or each food item compensate for the delivery cost.

6. Fixed menus are not always the most cost-effective option

Most catering menus will offer "bundle" deals, such as a roast, a pudding, a ham, drinks for 10 or 15 people. While these might be a bit cheaper than buying items a la carte, it's not always the case.

Work out the number of guests you're having before choosing a bundle deal. If it's a small dinner with seven people, for example, you may still save money by buying a la carte. There's no point buying a discounted menu for 10 people and paying for food you won't eat.

So don't be too quick to jump on hampers, menu sets, or other related bundled deals.

15 subtle tricks restaurants use to make you spend more

  • Research has shown that dollar signs make us think about how much we'll be spending instead of how good the food will taste. (Photo: Shutterstock)
  • Descriptive menu labels raised sales by 28 per cent, studies showed. Because "Free range chicken breast filled with Black Forest ham" sounds better than "Chicken breast filled with ham". (Photo: Shutterstock)
  • Starbucks and McDonald's are known to use smells as a marketing tactic. US baked goods chain Cinnabon even heats additional sheets of brown sugar and cinnamon between batches at some stores to keep the aroma in the air. (Photo: AFP)
  • Prices that end with .95 instead of .99 are often perceived as friendlier. (Photo: channels-design.com)
  • Bacon has the ability to turn a boring dish into something that intrigues diners, who'd be interested to find out how the pairing tastes like. (Photo: ST)
  • Foods that are highlighted in this box appear more important, increasing the chances they'll be ordered. (Photo: Shutterstock)
  • How many times have you been unable to stop thinking about that burger you saw in the ad, only to see that it doesn't even look half as good when it arrives in your hands? (Photo: Shutterstock)
  • This tactic tends to make us feel worried that the "small" wouldn't be enough. Furthermore, we can get the "large" for just a few dollars more. (Photo: chefsblade.monster.com)
  • Because the foods you love when you're young will remain your favourites even into adulthood. (Photo: Shutterstock)
  • Some restaurants use this marketing tactic known as "the anchor" by adding side dishes that cost a lot more than the main items. (Photo: chefsblade.monster.com)
  • The "special" is probably more expensive or something the restaurant needs to get rid of. (Photo: Shutterstock)
  • Some restaurants use hard-to-read fonts and put their prices all over the menu. Jumbling prices up makes it harder for you to read and compare prices. (Photo: chefsblade.monster.com)
  • Hospitality management students will tell you that "red and blue stimulate appetite, while grey and purple stimulate satiation". (Photo: designtaxi.com)
  • Soft drink cups are getting bigger, because customers don't mind paying a little more for the largest size. (Reuters)
  • Dishes are named after grandmas and aunts because diners are drawn to the idea of a secret family recipe. (Photo: Shutterstock)

7. Your "Christmas gift" voucher is an invitation to overspend

Some restaurants may send you a Christmas card, with a special deal (especially if you are on their mailing list). This may be a gift of a free dessert or a discount for dining there.

Before you accept it, look closely at the menu prices. In some cases, the restaurant may have thrown in massive mark-ups on a Christmas menu (the one you have to select from), so any discount or giveaway is more than negated by the price. It's also probable that the Christmas "gift" doesn't stack with credit card discounts or other membership discounts.

This article was originally published on SingSaver.com.sg, the fastest growing personal finance comparison site in Singapore. Click here for the original article or visit the comparison site for more.

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