I was incensed when I read the title of this Straits Times‘s article, “Dining for cheap skates?,” a write-up on Restaurant Week from 19 March to 25 March, with pre-booking from 22 Feb at the Restaurant Week website.
Restaurant Week allows customers to eat at mid-range and fine-dining restaurants for $25++/$40+ (lunch) and $35+/$55 +for dinner, which is a lesser price than normal, but definitely not, as the article claims, “a fraction of” the price. For example, I spent $180 for two at Salt Grill, almost equivalent to that on a non-discounted day.
I have been to all the restaurants that owners are interviewed in the article. Among the interviewees, I know Edith Lai, co-owner of Le Saint Julien, and Philippe Pau, director of Bistro du Vin and Au Jardin personally and they are incredibly nice, friendly and warm. They would never call customers “cheap skate” [sic] and in nowhere of the article do the restaurant owners denigrate the customers. “Cheap skate” [sic] is a derogatory term that Straits Times uses on restaurants’ customers to sensationalize the article. Responsible journalism please.
A more accurate report is that Edith and Magma German Wine Bistro have brought up two main concerns with Restaurant Week: (1) almost 30% of customers who make reservations for Restaurant Week don’t turn up and (2) customers don’t return after Restaurant Week.
Restaurant Week lasts for SEVEN days (in case your Maths fails). But it’s common that from Monday to Thursday, fine-dining restaurants are seldom packed. To have 70% of the tables occupied on a Monday is brisk business! I was at Salt Grill & Skybar for Restaurant Week on a Tuesday, and the restaurant had to have two sittings for dinner. Let’s say 70% turned up for each sitting, that would be 140% occupancy – on a weekday night! It’s better business than a full house. The same formula can be applied for weekends. So even if 30% don’t show up, the restaurant is still making money.
That being said, customers have to be responsible. Restaurants could call up customers three days’ in advance and confirm reservations and get customers’ credit card numbers. If customers don’t show up, charge to the credit cards. It’s a common practice overseas.
(2) No Returning Customers
This simply isn’t true. Chiobu and I went to Absinthe on Restaurant Week in Oct 2011 and we loved it so much that we got the entire contributors of Rubbish Eat Rubbish Grow (RERG) to throw a party there on Christmas Eve 2011. The contributors loved it too, and they went back with their friends on New Year Eve.
Or another example: If I have a romantic date, I’d definitely bring him to Salt Grill, another restaurant I tried during Restaurant Week. There just isn’t an opportunity to re-visit yet. And although I am not dating anyone now, I still recommend Salt Grill on the Most Romantic Restaurants for Valentine’s 2012, thus recommending more customers to the participating restaurants in Restaurant Week by word of mouth.
There is no reason why customers don’t return to Le Saint Julien because the food was excellent. Perhaps there are returning customers, the quiet and unostentatious sort, that Edith might not notice? As for Magma German Wine Bistro, from my review of it, you’d know the reason customers don’t return. What I mean to say is restaurants should reflect on themselves–why do we return to Absinthe but not Magma? Why blame everything on customers?
In other words, Restaurant Week is good for the restaurants even when there is no show or no returning customer. But what about the customers’ point of view that is lacking in the article?
Why Restaurant Week Is Necessary
Food is political. Those who can afford pay thousands for a meal while some subsist on a loaf of bread for days. Here, at RERG, we believe that all human beings are equal and all lives are sacred and deserve our respect. Lee Kuan Yew’s life is as valuable as a street cleaner’s; neither is better than the other. We believe in democracy, we believe everyone should be given equal opportunities and equal rights. This is why we review food from fine dining to mid-range restaurants to hawker centers. As equals, we should be able to access the same or similar food. This is the reason why Restaurant Week is necessary: it gives the not-so-well-to-do a chance at experiencing life, the kind of life the rich experiences. To live is to experience things so in this unfair world, there is at least a modicum of equality in this one week, this Restaurant Week. For a week, there is fairness and equality. There is an humanitarian aspect to Restaurant Week, which is why it is a program started at the most democratic cities in the world, London and New York.
And the rich should also participate in Restaurant Week. It gives the rich a chance to practice what they preach, to be democratic and just and fair. To ostracize Restaurant Week is the most uppish, snobbish and elitist behavior that ignores human rights and equality. Ostracizing Restaurant Week doesn’t make you cool or generous; it makes you jejune and mean and mean people need to see psychiatrists to find out their insecurities. The reason the Straits Times‘s article is horrible is because this kind of thinking Straits Times propagates is extremely elitist. The journalist assumes that non-cheapskates (i.e. rich and generous people) don’t need Restaurant Week; “Dining for cheap skates [sic]” implies wealthy people don’t need Restaurant Week. Why is there a need to classify people? Humans are all equal. Money or the willingness to spend money doesn’t make anyone more superior than the rest. Stop encouraging people to be showy with their money; it’s crass.
FYI, Straits Times, “cheapskate” is a single word.