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The Sad State of Chinese Wedding Banquets in Singapore

The Sad State of Chinese Wedding Banquets in Singapore

What kind of society are we advocating when we have Ang Pow Guides like this for wedding banquets?

When did Chinese wedding banquets become so commercialised?

When did Chinese wedding banquets become so commercialised?

For non-Singaporean readers, “ang pow” refers to “red packet” – a small red envelop with money in it that Chinese gives away during festive occasions to share the joy.

There are news report of wedding couples who circulate the Ang Pow Guide to their guests before their wedding as well as one bride who made the news recently for tweeting her friend to demand an answer for her “missing” ang pow. 

Sad isn’t it?

When have wedding banquets degenerated into P&L commercial events?

Isn’t it painfully obvious that the hotels are the one setting the prices for the ang pow “market rate” and have the most to gain from it?

Stop buying into this trap.

Just compare the quality and quantity of food you get for a $1000 or even $2000 per table hotel menu vs the kind of food you can get for $1000 to $2000 at a fine dining restaurant on normal occasions. The disparity is too great, even if we factor in venue rental and all.

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I believe “luxury” items like shark’s fin and abalone are used to bump up the banquet prices; especially shark’s fin. It is probably for this reason that you find many hotels are reluctant to offer non shark’s fin menus.

The prices in the ang pow guide are probably highly inflated by the hotels who profiteer from people’s willingness to give during the special occasion. At the end of the day, they are the one who stand to gain the most, not the couple who may even incur a hefty lost.

Having said that, I never understand why guests should be made to pay for a couple’s lavish wedding if they choose to hold their banquet at a venue which they jolly well know they can ill-afford. Imagine a guest arriving via public transport so as to save cost to give a big fat ang pow to cover a couple’s wedding at say, St Regis, while the couple waltzed in in style with chauffeur driven Rolls Royce, a hotel suite stay and all, expecting these to be fully covered by their guests. Fair?

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When Rachel and I planned for our wedding dinner, we avoided a hotel and went for a restaurant instead because we do not want our guests to feel pressurised to give fat, “market rate” ang pows. Some would deem this as being “cheapskate”; but the key for us is to share the joy – all else is secondary. The extra money from the ang pow is a bonus.

We did not expect to “earn” from the ang pows as we do not think it is appropriate to profiteer from our wedding or to treat it as a commercial event. I made sure I had enough to pay the bill for the whole wedding dinner in full, from my own pocket, without having to rely on the post banquet ang pows.

It is sad to think many couples deem it a necessity to spend beyond their means and expect their guests to pay for it.

There is a Chinese saying to describe this sad state of Chinese wedding banquets in Singapore – 打肿脸充胖子.

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If you cannot afford it, suck it up and go for something you can afford.

Yes, it’s “once in a lifetime”, but spend within your means.

Everything that is most expensive will always be the best, but there are always alternatives.

When did Chinese wedding banquets started becoming so cold, calculative and commercialised? No wonder so many of my friends around me are thinking of skipping it altogether!

Having rambled so much, for the bride who went to demand for an ang pow from her friend – why bother? Isn’t it worthwhile to “lose” a couple hundred dollars to see a person’s true character? 🙂

About The Author

alvinology

Alvin is a marketer by day and blogger by night. He is a 100% geek who spends too much time surfing the web.

16 Comments

  1. Grace

    Oh gee, the rates are steep! I thought SGD100 is good enough but looks like this is the minimum red packet rate in SG. This goes in proportion with your high standard of living. Do you also have principal sponsors in SG weddings i.e., the godfather and godmother? I wonder what the rate is if you were chosen as a principal sponsor.

    How about for child dedication or baptism, what should normally be the gift of a godfather or godmother?

    Reply
    • alvinology

      Hi Grace, what country are you from?

      I don’t think we have principal sponsor for Singapore weddings, but usually, parents from both side will chip in to defray the costs.

      Reply
  2. aidan

    unfortunately, the true profiteerers are the couples who choose places where the per table is well below the market rate so as to minimize risk of loss and easily end up better off . no one throws a lavish wedding expecting not to lose money.

    if i wanted to profit off my own life event, i’ll be sure to pick a restaurant to do so.

    Reply
  3. alvinology

    aidan: You are right only if the restaurant picked is way below market rate and that guests do not “moderate” their ang pow down seeing it’s not some glitzy hotel.

    From a purely P&L perspective, to profiteer, just pick a cheap restaurant or the cheapest menu at a good hotel.

    Anyway, that’s beside the point. My contention is not with couples who have their weddings at hotels, but those who pick hotels they can ill afford, expecting guests to cover everything (plus more); and still have the cheek to kpkb after that when the guests never meet their ang pow target.

    Reply
  4. so ngo lim

    Wedding is ONE day, Marriage is for LIFE!!

    Reply
  5. Daniel's Food Diary

    Good post! Interesting, few people questioned where the hongbao guide originated from….. Wasn’t it a wedding planning company or something. Go figure.

    Reply
  6. Grace

    Hi Alvin, Im from the Phils. The principal sponsors here are the ones who give big hong bao, however, they are also chosen because they are good friends of the couple’s parents or the couple.

    Reply
  7. Grace

    Oh and the wedding expense in the Phils is being covered by the groom’s family.

    Reply
  8. Sarah

    this would never happen at a malay wedding!

    Reply
  9. fishlike

    Agreed. I dont understand the youth this days. Wedding banquets are meant to let your friends n relatives be inform you r getting married. Not the time to sour puss your relationship with them. Imagine Chinese new year.

    I had my wedding done in a restaurant for less then $5k with buffet food of all sort at Raffles Country Club and held the solemn at the golf club. Cheap and good.

    sigh. want face yet dun can’t afford to pay.

    Reply
  10. Elizabeth Renee Lim

    I may be wrong, but I do believe that couple usually do not have the intention of profiting. In fact, it is because they know they will likely have to suffer a loss for the dinner that they are anxious to collect ang pows to defray costs (on this count, you are right in saying they are expecting guests to cover the expenses of a wedding).

    My view on weddings in general (whether Chinese, Malay or Western, etc.) is that most modern couples are hardwired to equate marriage = hold wedding lunch/reception/dinner without asking themselves what the point of doing so is. Usually the traditional bit is done out of respect for parents and elders, but the rest of the wedding is honestly optional. Because if it is to let the world know you are getting married, perhaps $3000 for an ad in the newspapers would be more financially prudent. If it is to ‘share your joy with those you love’, I am sure not all 30 tables comprise of people you would even hear from again for the next decade. When you look at it that way, even a few thousand (as compared to 20, 30K) seems like such a waste – spending money you don’t have, on things you can’t afford, to impress people you may not even like (will smith did not say that, lol). It’s kinda sad…. people will guilt-trip their parents into ‘sponsoring’ the wedding (after which they ask help for the downpayment of a flat), take personal loans, use peer pressure to oblige their guests into attending (because if you attend you are obliged to contribute) and then plonk all that money down without batting an eyelid. Someone else’s money. But if they had 30K to spare would they have helped the relative or friend who may have needed a loan for crisis? Doubt it.

    My point is, I don’t think most of them want to profit. They are just mostly insisting on things they cannot afford and selfishly imposing themselves on others.

    Might have been less painful to know their reasons if it were just profiting. Lol.

    http://www.perfectweddings.sg/forums/downloads/2012-ang-bao-market-rates.pdf

    Reply
    • alvinology

      Well stated! I especially agree with the part on just following blindly without rationally thinking through on affordability.

      Reply
  11. banquet hall essex

    Being calculative is no big deal but making your service go poor along with that is really a bad gesture. So, i think this aspect should be taken care off.

    Reply
  12. twple

    Guess it’s chinese culture. We definitely do not recommend couples going beyond their budget. It’s best to compare banquets and find the best according to one needs. Wedding banquet is not a ‘show off’ ceremony. 🙂

    Reply
  13. VL

    In Chinese HK and Taiwan, it’s even worse. The guests really take out their life Saving to bao ang paw to wedding couple which they fine it normal. $100 per pax is like minimal to generous people in this state, its like dam those people are crazy!

    Reply
  14. mm

    Simple, because the elders instill terrible values like “oh just do it here, people will give ypu ang pow one”. I protested at a banquet because I do not have the money nor inclination to spend 15 grand on a dinner. My ‘dream wedding’ involved a cake and punch reception or even just a simple buffet. My budget was sub 10k, I was prepared to either serve cheap food to 250 people or cut the number of guests to accmmodate the budget. Because you should only give what you can with the budget you have right? My ILs told me that our guests will pay for the wedding with their ang pows so I shouldn’t worry. I was raised in a community where guests are NEVER asked for gifts like that and it was absolutely unthinkable to do such a thing. But according to everyone, I’m in the wrong here. Asking people to pay for your wedding is perfectly fine, but embarassing your future in laws with a non-chinese wedding is rude.

    Reply

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