How on earth can a plate of Nasi lemak be priced at $20.40?

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A ridiculously priced "mixed rice" goes somewhat viral on social media and gets reported on social-political websites.

Adeline Sze was charged $20.40 for a plate of what seems to be "economical mixed rice" at the Food Republic, Vivocity on 8 February, the first day of Lunar New Year. Her friend, Patrick Tan felt that it was unfair for her and decided to share the story on his Facebook account with permission.

He wrote on his Facebook post along with the photo of Adeline's meal, "I know it's festive season and there will be an increase in the Prices for food. Also lazy to go find a Coffeeshop thats still open. That's why I'm having maggi mee now at home. This afternoon I had my lunch in cck and they increased by $1. My Friend ordered this rice at Vivo city. 1 chicken wing. 1 spring roll. 1 egg and 2 types of veges. Guess how much? It's $20.40."

(Just as a prior clarification. If you look closely at the photo, its 6 dishes; 1 chicken wing, 1 wuxiang, 1 meat of sorts, 1 steamed egg and 2 type of vegetable.)

Netizens have been astonished on how a plate of mixed rice could have cost so much, saying that the stall should be named and shamed for its audacity to charge its customers as such.

What stall is it actually to have charged its customers at such a high price for such plain looking dishes?

In reality, it is not an economical rice stall nor the Nasi Padang at the foodcourt. The actual stall in question is the Chong Pang Nasi Lemak stall.

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Chong Pang Nasi Lemak at the Food Republic in Vivocity

But how was the dish priced at $20.40? Did the cashier haphazardly calculated the price of the dishes and gave a rounded up figure of the actual cost?

So happened that this writer passed by the foodcourt and, therefore, decided to buy a closely similar dish to test if the price was indeed as such. One chicken wing, two vegetables, and steamed egg.

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Terry's $13.00 lunch

When the cashier tabulated the four dishes that was ordered, the final price came up to $13.00.

Wondering how the dish could have cost $20.40, this writer asked about if anyone had ordered a meal costing over 20 dollars. The female staff who was handling the food said in Chinese, "Have, if you order six dishes and plus the 20 percent Chinese New Year surcharge, of course, it will be 20 dollars."  Interestingly, the lady seemed to be referring to the above-mentioned incident as she recalls that the six dishes nasi lemak rice is meant for a two person portion.

The spring roll, "wu xiang" in the photo by Adeline was said to cost 3 dollars. So looking back at what was ordered for the writer's meal, the base cost would have been 19 dollars if added with two meat dishes of 3 dollars. If we were to work the sum back for the $20.40 meal, taking away the 20% surcharge, the actual value of the dish would be $17.00. So to think about it, the two meat dishes were given a discount of $1 each. (same as what was offered to the writer for an additional piece of meat.)

Just google "Chong Pang Food Republic Vivocity", and you will realise that this stall is no stranger to controversy on its pricing. Links to forum threads and reports on STOMP, go all the way back to 2008, complaining about the overly priced nasi lemak rice.

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Complaint about the Chong Pang Nasi Lemak, Food [email protected] in 2008

But do customers really know how much would they be charged for the dish?

Well, there is a huge signboard and sideboard menu that mentions the price. $1.50 to $4.50 for chicken, $2.50 to $5.00 for seafood, etc. But frankly, who would assume that "mixed rice" cost so much?

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When asked which chicken dish(es) cost $1.50, the staff sheepishly shared that the board is outdated, and the price have been revised upwards a while back. Only the egg, hotdog, and otah remained the same.

This writer would advise diners to simply just disregard the price range and just take the highest figure as the cost of the item or just to avoid this tourist trap all together. After all, this foodcourt is situated just right beside the entrance of the monorail leading into Sentosa, the biggest tourist trap in Singapore.

Going further on the justification of cost, TOC spoke to a professional F&B consultant about the operating cost that food stalls such as Chong Pang Nasi Lemak have to pay to the food court.

While uncertain about the exact rental of the stalls in Food Republic, he says that such shops typically command a base rental of $9,000 with a sales target of $40,000. Any sales above $40,000 subject to a commission of 23-26%.

The cleaning fees will cost about to $2,500 and may go up accordingly with sales. Eg. The first $10,000 beyond the sales target of $40,000 will have an additional charge of $200 and etc. Along with a management fee $2,000.

He also noted that the stall owners are required to pay a "renovation fee" from $40,000-$100,000. Prime location like ION, Wisma, Vivocity would be on the high end which are normally paid off via an installment payment of 1-2years installment from their sales.

So effectively even before hitting $40,000 in sales, stall owners would have paid nearly $15,000 on fees to main operator alone.

Back to the issue of the overly priced nasi lemak. If the stall is still surviving after so many years despite the amount of complaints it receives online and the high operating expenses, it must be doing something right somehow. Therefore, as much as people can cry for the boycott of the stall,  the age old saying stand true, "willing buyer, willing seller."