Cafe Fest fiasco over entry passes leaves customers bitter

The pop-up Cafe Fest at the Waterfront Promenade received a lot of flak online. Participants were unhappy that members of the public could purchase from stalls that were supposed to accept only pass holders. -- ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
The pop-up Cafe Fest at the Waterfront Promenade received a lot of flak online. Participants were unhappy that members of the public could purchase from stalls that were supposed to accept only pass holders. -- ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

A cafe-hopping festival meant to be open to only pass holders over the weekend has left an acrid taste in customers' mouths, after they found that anyone could get in for free.

The pop-up Cafe Fest at the Waterfront Promenade near Marina Bay Sands featured cafes such as Tiong Bahru Bakery, I Am and Toby's Estate, offering live music acts and cupcakes, burgers and coffee for sale.

About 1,000 people bought $30 VIP passes, which gave them priority queues at stalls, and a VIP area where they could get some shade and enjoy the music. Thrice that number bought normal passes for $25 to buy food and drink. But to their surprise, people without passes were served as well.

Food and drinks sold out very quickly, said Mr Shaun Lee, 23, who was there on Saturday with a normal pass. "We were there at about 2pm, and almost all the food was already sold out," said the National University of Singapore undergraduate.

"The website said only pass holders could purchase from the stalls, but this was not enforced. There was no difference between a pass holder and someone who hadn't paid anything."

VIP pass holder Ang Qianling, 29, co-founder of an online start-up, said the stalls did not have priority queues and anyone could enter the VIP tent. Many customers took to social media to complain and demand refunds.

Things improved yesterday.

Organisers Gabriel Tan, 29, and Sarah Lek, 27, who run an event and public relations start-up called TGLS - Tell Great Little Stories, apologised on Cafe Fest's Facebook page on Saturday night, promising to limit access to the VIP tent and create express queues for certain stalls.

These measures seemed to work. Ms Tabitha Poh, 25, said she was "quite pleased" with the festival when she visited yesterday. "The crowd didn't seem that big, and the vendors were friendly," said the customer service officer, who had a normal pass.

Mr Tan and Ms Lek said they are working on a compensation plan for those who bought passes.

They explained that while Cafe Fest was meant to be open to only pass holders, they were unable to put up barricades because it was held in a public place.

"We will listen to the feedback and take care of the situation, and try to make it right - we are not going to let it slide," said Mr Tan.

audreyt@sph.com.sg