Eating out takes big bites out of the urbanite’s budget

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Many successful new eateries owe their success to young customers.Many successful new eateries owe their success to young customers.Many successful new eateries owe their success to young customers.

For financial services manager S.L. Kuan, living in Bangsar and working in Mont Kiara afford her the convenience of being constantly within close reach of countless popular restaurants. But it also costs her thousands of ringgit each month to pay for pricey lunches and lattes.

Kuan, who recently turned 30, believes her predicament is shared by many other young professionals who are irresistibly drawn to the rising number of trendy eateries popping up across the Klang Valley.

“We earn a decent living, but we spend so much of our salaries on eating out,” says Kuan, who largely blames social media for sparking a tidal wave of peer pressure for people to hang out at expensive bistros and cafes.

“We see friends proudly posting photos on Facebook and Instagram whenever they visit a cool restaurant. So there’s always a bit of a competition to show that we’re not left out,” she adds.

EatingOut2

EatingOut2

The temptation to check out the latest F&B hotspots begins even before urbanites start working. In Subang’s SS15 neighbourhood, which hosts many private colleges, there are now over two dozen caffeine bars where students congregate, sharing tiramisus and sipping RM10 cappuccinos brewed with gourmet coffee beans from Africa and South America.

Many successful new eateries owe their success to young customers. When the inventively experimental burger joint MyBurgerLab launched in Petaling Jaya’s Seapark in mid-2012, it attracted hordes of customers in their late teens and early twenties who waited in line for more than an hour to sample RM15 burgers at the outlet, which has since opened another thriving branch at Taman OUG.

White-collar workers tend to spend even more, fuelling the spread of mid-market establishments – such as The BIG Group’s contemporary cafes like Ben’s and Plan B in the Bangsar Village, Publika and Pavilion malls – where a meal easily exceeds RM50 for one main course of a pasta combined with a dessert and non-alcoholic beverage.

Shahril Reza, who runs Daikanyama, the hippest Japanese restaurant at Changkat Bukit Bintang, estimates that about 150 relatively young customers in their twenties visit his outlet each month, mostly on Fridays and Saturdays to celebrate the end of the working week. Some spend more than RM100 per person on sake, cocktails and beer.

“They’re an important and influential segment of the market. They can’t be ignored,” Shahril says, noting that restaurants provide an avenue for people climbing the corporate ladder to relax and have a fun time after a stressful, fast-paced week at the office.

The strain for many young professionals is how to balance the need to socialise at restaurants with other financial responsibilities, especially if they need to save to purchase their first homes and cars or even plan for marriage.

Melissa, a 26-year-old research consultant who lives with her parents in Petaling Jaya, earns between RM100,000 and RM120,000 annually, but she notes that eating out is her No. 1 expense, accounting for up to 30% of her income, followed by household bills which she pays, as well as shopping for clothes, skin care products and other personal items.

Despite carving out a beefy chunk of her salary on food, Melissa – who asked to be identified by her first name only – says her restaurant habits are hardly extravagant. She eats out about five times a week for lunch and another five times for dinner, exploring mall eateries, dim sum outposts and bar-lounges. She only occasionally splurges on steaks at the Le Meridien hotel or at an upmarket Italian fine-dining establishment.

“I definitely feel that eating out is costly in KL and PJ. It does have an effect, but I’ve learned to limit my spending by allocating a certain amount of my earnings each month on savings and investments,” says Melissa, who hopes to buy a Honda City early next year and make a down-payment for an apartment at the end of 2015.

“If I know I’ll be spending a lot this week on food and drinks, I’ll just spend less next week and eat out at cheaper places,” she adds.

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