SINGAPORE - 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 at Cross Street to China Square Central, where almost all the restaurants offer some enticing deal or another.
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 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-airconditioned 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, Mr Lance Ourednik, says: "The concept behind Daily Treats is to offer quality food and beverage that reflects 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 again 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.
Mr 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 afterwork 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, Ms 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 7 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, recently ran a $2 latte promotion, which 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 Oct 6 to 10.
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.
Mr Joseph Wong of 63Celsius at Asia Square runs an on-going $10-a-glass house Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir deal that rotates every two months. He has 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 F&B operator can continue trading on skinny margins is another question."
Mrs 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. And also, 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 $1 coffees for two mornings when it opened, and is pricing them at $3 this month.
Owner Karen Lim says: "We did the promotions since 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."
Ms 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."
Ms 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."
10 BEST DEALS
THE WESTIN SINGAPORE
What: Dine in air-conditioned comfort at this new hotel's deli, Daily Treats.
It offers lunch combos at $8 nett. The sets include a choice of pasta (left), laksa or sandwich with either a fruit salad or a soft drink. The fruit salad or soft drink can be replaced with soup for an extra $1.
Pasta options include basil pesto with parmesan cheese pasta, laksa pasta or bacon with parmesan in tomato cream sauce pasta. If you prefer a sandwich, the choices are smoked salmon, beef, grilled vegetables, and ham and cheese.
When: 11am to 3pm, weekdays
Where: Daily Treats, Level 1, The Westin Singapore, Asia Square Tower 2, 12 Marina View
Info: Call 6922-6998
What: After its previous promotion of $1 English muffins, look out for Jewel Coffee's $1 croissant promotion with every coffee purchased. There are also sandwich and pasta promotions in the pipeline.
When: Oct 6 to 10, 7am to 8pm
Where: Jewel Coffee outlets at Hitachi Tower and 1 Shenton Way, 01-07
What: Early birds who buy a drink between 7 and 11am get 50 per cent off their second drink after 1pm. Good for those who drink more than one cup a day. Prices start at $3.50 for an espresso or hot tea.
When: 7am to 6pm, weekdays only
Where: The Arcade, 11 Collyer Quay, 02-37
Info: Call 6226-3185
MEDZS BISTRO & BAR
What: Medzs, which serves Mediterranean food, offers drinks at irresistible prices. Erdinger beers costs $4.90 all day. For Happy Hour from 5 to 7pm, Kirin draft beer costs $3.90, while the Kirin frozen fruit beer (below) costs $5.90.
When: 8am to 10pm (Monday to Thursday), 8am to 11pm (Friday), 11am to 8pm (Saturday)
Where: Clifford Centre, 01-01, Raffles Place
Info: Call 6536-1917
THE ROYAL MAIL
What: Daily bar promotions include $5 dirty or dry martinis on Monday; 1-for-1 house pour and premium wine on Tuesdays; 1-for-1 whiskies by the glass on Wednesday. During Happy Hour, all specialty cocktails (above) are priced at $10 each.
When: 5 to 8pm (Happy Hour on weekdays only), 6pm till closing (daily bar promotions)
Where: Ascott Raffles Place Singapore, 2 Finlayson Green
Info: Call 6509-3589
MARCHE MOVENPICK ASIA
What: Have a hearty breakfast with a 1-for-1 breakfast deal. The second breakfast must be of equal or lower value. Breakfast items include Marche Movenpick Breakfast ($16.90) with a choice of two fried or scrambled organic eggs, bacon, chipotle sausages, baked beans with confit salami, served with bread; Cold Cut Threesome ($11.90) with Blackforest ham, mortadella and cheese served with sourdough and rye bread; and breakfast pizza with a choice of ham ($9.50) or sausage ($9.90) with bacon and egg.
When: 8 to 10am daily
Where: Asia Square Tower 2, 12 Marina View, 01-04/05
Info: Call 6844-9207
What: The restaurant's Italian classics come under its Big Plates selection with pasta, fish and meats priced from $8++ to $12++. Menu items include linguine with seafood marinara ($8, above), carbonara (done the Italian way with egg pasta, guanciale and egg, $8), Baked Chicken Cacciatore ($9), and Chef's Salad with Homemade Pancetta & Cheese ($9). Happy Hour promotions include draft beer at $5++ a glass daily until 8pm.
In addition to the regular promotions, diners working in the area can leave name cards with the restaurant, and they will get an e-mail offering a 10 per cent discount on the a la carte menu for subsequent visits.
When: Noon to 2.30pm (weekday lunch), 6.30 to 10.30pm (dinner from Monday to Saturday)
Where: China Square Central, 20 Cross Street, 01-19
What: If you prefer a traditional kopi and toast set for tea break, go to Coffee Hive for its $2 set (right) which includes coffee or tea and a choice of kaya, butter, butter with sugar or peanut butter toast.
When: 2 to 5pm, weekdays only
Where: Afro Asia Building (in MPH Bookstore), 63 Robinson Road, 01-02
Info: Go to www.thecoffeehive.com
What: Drink up at this French restaurant, which features a variety of daily alcohol promotions. Start on Monday with free flow of white and red wine at $29; and wind down on Thursday and Friday with $5 house pours, and $1 beer for every two bottles purchased at $10 each.
When: 5 to 8pm daily
Where: Asia Square Tower 1, 8 Marina View, 01-01
Info: Go to lacantine.sg
BAGUETTE - THE VIET INSPIRED DELI
What: If you need a tea break, head to Baguette for its mid-day specials.
Get two pieces of crispy garlic toast for $1.90; hot toasties (tuna, cornbeef, ham and cheese or minced meat) or a slice of Pine Garden's cake at $2.90; or a mozzarella cheese melt, mini baguette (right) or soup of the day with garlic toast for $3.90.
When: 10.15 to 11.30am, 2.30 to 6pm daily
Where: Two outlets at Hitachi Tower and Marina Bay Link Mall
Info: Call 6536-7604 (Hitachi Tower) or 6509 1804 (Marina Bay Link Mall). Go to www.baguette.sg
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.