1 meal = 1 month's salary
Tourists from the Philippines shocked at massive bill for seafood dinner at Boat Quay
Seafood meals can be expensive.
But a Filipino family on a trip here were stunned when they were hit with a bill for $1,186.20.
Just the crab alone cost them $707.
Their meal on April 26 at Forum Seafood Village Restaurant at Boat Quay also included prawns, a fish and a plate of vegetables.
Mr Santiago Caaway, 54, said the total bill was more than what the family paid for their flight here and back.
The restaurant had been in the news previously after tourists accused it of over-charging.
But Forum Seafood spokesman Thomas Tham said the restaurant clearly states its prices and patrons know how much the dishes cost.
And it was no ordinary crab that the Caaway family ordered. They had chilli Alaskan king crab, which other restaurants and seafood suppliers say is expensive.
Was Mr Caaway aware that he was getting the Alaskan king crab instead of the more common and cheaper mud crab?
Mr Caaway claimed his family did not know there were different types of crab on the menu but said they wanted it cooked in chilli gravy.
"We heard that Singapore is known for its chilli crab, so we thought we must have this," said Mr Caaway, who has since returned to the Philippines.
BIG OR SMALL
Mr Caaway, in a telephone interview, claimed the waiter had difficulty speaking English and all the family could understand was "big or small", referring to the size of the crab they wanted.
The family gestured "big", enough for their family of four and they claimed the waiter rushed to the kitchen without further explanation.
It was their first time here and, after a day of sightseeing, they wanted to have seafood.
A receptionist at the Traveller's Inn hostel, where the family stayed, suggested Boat Quay.
Mr Caaway, who teaches at a fine arts university in the Philippines, was here last month with his wife and two adult children. It was their first trip here.
Mr Caaway said the first hint of trouble came when he noticed a Caucasian family sitting near their table arguing with the waiter over their bill.
The husband was shouting at the waiter while his wife was trying to get him to calm down, he added.
The group of six then took out their wallets to split the bill.
Mrs Caaway said: "We didn't know the price of everything until after the meal."
So when the bill came, Mr Caaway said he broke out in a cold sweat and wondered if he was dreaming.
Mr Caaway, who earns about 60,000 pesos (S$1,708) a month, claimed that one meal almost wiped out his entire month's salary.
Mrs Caaway, 50, a freelance writer, said: "We were speechless. For a whole five minutes, we sat in silence, not knowing how to react."
Their daughter, Ms Sarah Caaway, 22, then took out her phone and calculated the exchange rate and showed it to her parents.
Mrs Caaway added: "We couldn't believe it. We were utterly shocked to shell out that much money for such a small meal. It was ridiculous."
Mrs Caaway said their trip here was otherwise a happy one.
He said: "Many good things in Singapore after that (meal) comforted us.
"But we had to force ourselves to enjoy the last four days because we knew we would have to deal with the problem when we got back."
Restaurant says prices clearly stated
Forum Seafood Village Restaurant's business consultant Thomas Tham said it was a case of miscommunication.
He said that the prices of all the food items are stated clearly in both the English and Chinese menus.
He also claimed that employees have been instructed to walk every customer through the menu before taking an order.
He said the restaurant will reiterate these guidelines to all staff to ensure such a case will not happen again.
The deputy manager of the Boat Quay outlet that Mr Santiago Caaway and his family patronised added that she is certain her employees had gone through the menu with the family before sending the order in as it is a procedure for all orders.
The restaurant, which has two outlets, has been criticised by tourists for overcharging.
Other than media reports, tourists have been posting their grievances on TripAdvisor, a travel website providing tourists a place to review and share their travel experiences.
Complaints date back to 2011.
Of the 136 reviews, several criticised the restaurant's overpriced menu and poor service.
User Sarah84269 from France said that when she confronted the manager about her bill, he rebutted by losing his temper and raising his voice.
Another user, 830MarkS from Spain, remarked that the employees were incomprehensible and that he would have got more satisfaction from handing out money to passers-by on the street than going to the restaurant.
User Mark H from Germany had even gone to the extent of calling the police to mediate, after which he claimed the restaurant cut his bill by almost $800 to S$1,500.
The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said it has received a small number of complaints against restaurants along Boat Quay.
STB spokesman John Conceicao said: "STB takes a serious view on errant retailers who besmirch the reputation of Singapore as a premier tourist destination.
"In cases where consumers require monetary redress, STB works closely with Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) to ensure the complaints are properly addressed."
Mr Conceicao said visitors who find themselves in such situations may report the incident to STB.
"Retail complaints that require monetary redress are routed to Case for resolution," he said.
Why so expensive?
Mr Pang Khim Hua, 54, owner of Huat Kee Seafood Supply Singapore, said the Alaskan king crab (photo) is expensive because of the difficulty and danger in catching it.
Found only in extremely cold deep waters, the crab, usually from Norway, Moscow or Korea, is considered a luxury crab and can cost up to $250 per kg.
Jumbo Seafood charges $168 per kilo of the Alaskan king crab while Long Beach charges $198. The cost of the following crabs are as provided by Mr Pang Khim Hua, owner of Huat Kee Seafood Supply.
1 MUD CRAB
The mud crab is the most common kind of crab and is imported from Malaysia, the Phillipines, Vietnam and Australia.
When the mud crab is moulting, it can be served as soft shell crab.
Price: $20 to $30 per kg
2 FLOWER CRAB
Also known as the blue swimmer crab, it is found mostly in Indonesia.
Flower crabs can cost about $20 per kg.
3 BROWN CRAB
Scientifically known as the Cancer pagurus, this crab is found mainly in Western European countries like Scotland.
Price: About $30 per kg
4 SNOW CRAB
Recognised by its long spider-like legs, the snow crab is also known as the spider crab or queen crab. It is found mostly in Australia and Japan.
Price: Up to $100 per kg