The Straits Times, March 28, 2011
By Jessica Lim
PRICES of buffet spreads in Singapore might be heading north - but foodies are still ready to splurge for variety.
Buffet-goers are forking out anything from $15.80 to $64 each for spreads that range from porridge with side dishes to oysters and rotisserie fare.
When The Straits Times checked with 20 popular buffet joints here, it found that 13 had raised prices by $1 to $9 per diner over the past six months.
They cited rising costs - for food ingredients, electricity and labour - as reasons for the price hikes.
Even so, 11 of these 13 establishments actually saw a rise in patronage.
At Quality Hotel, the Taiwan porridge buffet welcomes 15 per cent more customers now than it did last year. About 400 people flock to the generous spread at the cafe over the weekends.
'Every weekend, we have a waiting list of at least 20 people a day. They put their names down and then mingle in the lobby,' said food and beverage manager Dennis Muthu, 37. 'We've even had to open the lounge to diners.'
The hotel, located on Balestier Road, now charges $15.80 for its dinner buffet spread, up from $14.80 in January this year and $13.50 last year. Laksa has been added to the spread.
Other outlets, even the pricier ones, are telling a similar tale.
Tarafuku Japanese Buffet, at 313@Somerset in Orchard, now serves 570 diners on the weekends, up from 220 when it opened in September last year. These days, it charges $27.80 for dinner; last year, dinner prices from Monday to Thursday were $2 cheaper.
Sunday buffet lunch at Italian restaurant Basilico now attracts 20 per cent more diners than it did a year ago.
A check with the restaurant last Friday found it fully booked for yesterday, with a waiting list of 30. The buffet is priced at $64, against $55 last year and $49 in 2009.
On Jan 1, Carousel at Royal Plaza on Scotts started charging $62 for its weekday dinner buffet, up from $58 last year and $52 in 2009. The restaurant, which also started offering fresh oysters instead of frozen and a wider range of seafood, is now welcoming an average of 720 customers on the weekends, up from 600 last year.
Regular buffet-goer Clara Sim, 29, said she did not mind a slight price hike.
'I just have to eat more,' said the teacher, half in jest. She hits the buffet trail at least once a month.
'I skip lunch and go to the buffet restaurant early. It's like two meals for the price of one.'
Said Ms Nikole Ow, 22, a student who dines at buffets once a month: 'Nowadays, even food courts charge quite a lot. If you can find a buffet for under $20, it's actually better value for money.'
She said ordering Indian food and a fruit juice at Food Republic in 313@Somerset cost her about $10.
'I might as well pay more and enjoy a wider variety of food that is usually better quality as well,' she noted.
Experts say most might find the trend counterintuitive, expecting patrons to be turned off by the price hikes. But the increase in numbers actually makes lots of sense.
'Prices at eateries all over Singapore are going up, so people are willing to pay a bit more to get a lot more. They see a buffet as value for money,' said marketing and retail lecturer Andrew Lee at Singapore Polytechnic's business school.
The higher buffet prices, he said, have not discouraged people as they are used to such increases by now.
Others point to a recovering economy.
'Consumers have raised their price threshold. They now want it all - variety, quality and quantity,' said Mr Dennis Toh, 34, a marketing lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic's business school.
Noting that buffet spreads are also widening in choice, he said: 'Singaporeans love to eat, and food is the first thing they will start to indulge in again.'
Foodie Jerry Fernandez, 62, said the improved economy had prompted him to visit buffets twice a week now. During the downturn, he went twice a month.
'It is affordable, and the spreads are splendid,' said the businessman.
'If you go a la carte, you can't eat as much for the same price. Prices at hawker centres are also going up, so the difference is no longer as great.'
Nevertheless, nutritionists such as Ms Ho Yi Fei of DaySpring Corporate Wellness caution buffet stalwarts against overdoing it.
'When people pay a flat amount for a buffet, they want to eat their money's worth. This can lead to overeating and a less balanced diet because they usually eat less vegetables,' she said.
'These spreads normally offer foods that are high in carbohydrates and protein. Eating too much of such foods can lead to a host of problems including diabetes and heart disease.'