SINGAPORE - The weekday lunch hour in the Central Business District (CBD) is the busiest time for the food and beverage outlets there. They have under four hours - lunch hour is typically from 11.30am to 3pm - to feed time-starved office workers.
The stiff competition from other restaurants and the proliferation of food delivery services like GrabFood and Deliveroo means that restaurants have to work hard to entice diners out of the office.
Rolling out value set lunches, offering early-bird pre-orders for takeaway and changing the menu quarterly are some of the ways Mr Ricky Ng, managing director of Blue Lotus Concepts International, boosts the lunch business at Blue Lotus Chinese Grill House at Tanjong Pagar Centre.
Next month, the restaurant's executive set lunch menu will be refreshed with "lighter" options that have more protein and less carbs - based on feedback from diners. This is to also compete with trendy grain bowls and protein salads that have become increasingly popular with CBD workers.
Mr Ng, 48, will also launch takeaway bento sets priced between $9 and $13.
He says: "Takeaway food is big business now because people sometimes don't even have an hour for lunch. Also, pricing in the CBD has to be economical because you want diners to return."
Mr Ng estimates that the average bill for an executive lunch in the area is $22 to $25, while most are comfortable spending is $15 to $18, without drinks.
The CBD is a haven for value lunch sets - whether you are on a budget or intending to splurge.
Financial analyst Amanda Phua, 35, who works in Raffles Place, eats out twice a week with her colleagues. "We make it a point to dine out, especially for business lunches that require a nicer ambience."
The Sunday Times susses out bang-for-your-buck set lunches.
What: The modern Korean bibimbap brand offers the popular rice dish that can be customised with sauces and sides. Signature items include beef bulgogi ($9.90) and kimchi tofu ($7.90), with a base of Korean white rice, five vegetable sides and sauce.
Complete the set meal with Korean seaweed soup and tea (add $4).
Where: 01-44 OUE Downtown Gallery, 6A Shenton Way, open: 11am to 8pm (weekdays), 11am to 3pm (Saturdays), closed on Sundays
THE SALTED PLUM
What: The home-grown brand known for serving homely Taiwanese fare is offering set lunch deals that include a rice bowl, choice of appetiser and drink (from an extra $3). Go for burnt chilli chicken rice bowl ($9 or $11), lu rou fan 2.0 ($11 or $13, above), or beef belly rice bowl ($11 or $13).
Appetiser options include soup of the day, cabbage, fried oyster or mushrooms.
Where: 10 Circular Road
When: 11.30am to 2.30pm, weekdays only
Info: www.facebook.com /TheSaltedPlumSG
WANG DAE BAK
What: A wide variety of Korean dishes are available, with prices starting at $9++. Highlights include spicy seafood tofu soup ($12), ginseng chicken soup with ramen ($11), claypot beef stew with noodles ($13) and barbecued pork in hotplate ($11).
If you are feeling ravenous, go for the set meal ($18), which offers soup and grilled meat. Side dishes include seafood pancake ($5) and spicy rice cake ($6).
Where: Outlets at 98 Amoy Street and 01-64 China Square Central,
22 Cross Street
When: 11.30am to 2.30pm (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays
Info: Call 6226-0450 (Amoy Street) or 6225-2646 (China Square Central) or go to www.wangdaebak.com.sg
What: This three-in-one concept by the Select Group houses Pho Street (Vietnamese food), Niigata Bento (Japanese food) and Bowl Thai (Thai food) in the same space.
Pho Street's selections include Pho Beef Combination ($14.90), spicy pork slices vermicelli ($12.90) and lemongrass chicken rice ($12.90).
All sets include a summer roll and either iced lemon tea or iced jasmine tea.
At Niigata Bento, choose from set meals such as bara chirashi ($19.90), tonkatsu curry ($12.90) and unagi donburi (from $15.90). All sets include tatsuta-age (fried chicken) and either iced yuzu or iced green tea.
Bowl Thai's set options include green curry chicken with rice ($14.90), tom yam seafood soup with rice ($14.90) and Bangkok wonton noodle ($12.90).
Each set comes with Thai fish cake (two pieces) and iced Thai tea or lemongrass drink.
Where: B1-29/30 Hong Leong Building, 16 Raffles Quay
When: 11am to 3pm, weekdays only
What: Set lunch at the ramen restaurant is $12++ for a choice of main and a glass of iced green tea. Options include Zero Ramen (tonkotsu), Oodou shoyu ramen (shoyu and vegetable broth), tendon (tempura on rice, above), or Veggie ramen in a vegetable consomme.
Pair your meal with a side dish ($3++), such as gyoza (five pieces), fried rice, daily salad or chicken karaage (three pieces).
Where: 01-15 Tanjong Pagar Centre, 5 Wallich Street
When: 11am to 5pm daily
Info: Call 6584-0087 or go to www.ippudo.com.sg
What: The French restaurant's set lunch is $38 for three courses.
For appetisers, pick tomato soup with smoked carrot, burrata cream and espelette oil; pate en croute served with mustard and pickles; or spinach salad with goat cheese, nuts and Chardonnay dressing.
Mains include grilled salmon with sauteed kale and mushroom; and pulled pork burger with coleslaw, cheddar and fries.
Where: 165 Tanjong Pagar Road
When: Noon to 2.30pm, weekdays only
What: Set lunch at the Spanish restaurant is $29.90++ for three courses. For starters, you get a choice of padron peppers, soup of the day or Caesar salad.
Main course highlights include grilled country-style pork burger; grilled Black Angus Sirloin Entrecot; and tagliatelle seafood aglio olio. The meal ends with a dessert of the day.
Where: 01-16 Tanjong Pagar Centre, 5 Wallich Street
When: Noon to 3pm, weekdays only
Info: Call 6386-9678 or go to www.facebook.com/purabrasa.singapore
BLUE LOTUS CHINESE GRILL HOUSE
What: The current executive set lunch menu is priced from $18 to $26. Highlights include pork lard truffle-flavoured shiitake mushroom, beansprouts and noodles ($18); claypot ma po tofu, onsen egg and rice ($22); and hot-stone peppercorn Australian beef tenderloin, egg fried rice ($26). Each set comes with salad and a chilled aloe vera and lemongrass dessert.
Daily specials are also available, such as salted duck drumstick confit and mushroom barley risotto ($28) on Thursdays and the restaurant's signature chilli pomelo soft shell crab noodles ($28) on Mondays.
Where: 01-13 Tanjong Pagar Centre, 5 Wallich Street
When: 11.30am to 3pm, weekdays only
Info: Call 6996-0880 or go to www.bluelotus.com.sg/chinese-grill-house-tanjong-pagar
What: Modern sushi bar Chi Kinjo features set lunches priced from $18++ to $34++. Go for the Premium set lunch at $22++, which includes two types of sashimi (two pieces each), chawanmushi and a main. Main course options include chirashi don, dashi somen, unagi kabayaki or its signature sushi sandwiches.
The $34++ executive set lunch offers three types of sashimi, chawanmushi, a bento box and a drink. The bento box selection includes yakiniku beef, hamburg steak or XO ginger pork - served with egg roll with wasabi mayonnaise and spinach with Caesar dressing.
Where: 29 Stanley Street
When: 11.30am to 2.30pm, weekdays only
What: Savour a $38 three-course lunch at Italian restaurant Gattopardo. Appetisers include roasted pumpkin soup with fresh ricotta, sauteed mussels in spicy tomato broth and 16-month aged Parma ham with confit heirloom tomatoes. For the main course, the selection includes bucatini with roasted cauliflower, pine nuts and raisins; herb-crusted sea bass with Sicilian caponata (eggplant dish) and Noto almond sauce; and oven-roasted pork belly with mashed potatoes, spinach and citrus jus.
Where: 34 Tras Street
When: Noon to 2.30pm, Tuesdays to Fridays only