Whether it’s a buffet or a home-cooked meal, Christmas dinner in Singapore comes at a premium price – and it’s not always worth it.
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.
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, using a dining rebate credit card, 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% off buffet at Carousel.
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.
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.
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.
5. Be Wary 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.
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.
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By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.