Al Dented

The last time I dined with friends at Al Dente Trattoria at Colours on the Bay, I recalled having a decent experience with lovely ambience. Thus, I was fine when my family decided to dine there after watching Phantom of the Opera. Or so I thought…

When we made our booking before the show began, the lady at the restaurant told us that their last order was at 10.45pm. Our show ended at about 10.35pm, but by the time we made our way to the other side of the building it was just past 10.45pm. Feeling a bit bad, I asked if they minded, but a cheerful waitress told us it was OK, and directed us to our seats upstairs.
I thought that was a nice gesture, but my sister noticed that as we went into the restaurant, a cook spotted us from the kitchen and rolled his eyeballs. While the front-end staff were fine with us coming in, the guy at the back end was certainly not happy.
Anyway, we quickly placed our orders for drinks and food. We ordered a $70 bottle of wine, and sparkling water. We were told they were out of sparkling water, so we asked for still water.
However, our drinks took about 15 minutes to arrive. It was strange because the tables around us were just having plain water, and there were waitresses busily topping up their glasses every few minutes. When we had observed our neighbours’ glasses being topped up for the second or third time, we got miffed and decided to call for plain water instead. I was so thirsty!
I waved my hand for service. There were three young waitresses standing a few metres in front of us, chatting to each other. None noticed me waving at them, though by that late time there were only about 5 tables occupied on the top floor. After more conspicious waving from my family, we caught their attention, requested for plain water and cancelled our order for mineral water.
That was a case of bad management. They took their time to serve customers who were willing to pay extra for drinks. They lost the opportunity to make more money from us.
Another thing we noticed was that the waitstaff were not well trained. For instance, a waiter asked who was having the spaghetti bolognaise and I raised my hand. He confidently placed the dish in front of me. But the dish was in a cream sauce, with seafood and vegetables! It was so obviously not what I had ordered and I was quite surprised that he didn’t know, or bother to check, what spaghetti bolognaise looked like. It’s such a common pasta dish.
Just then, another waiter came up, carrying another dish and asking the same question – “Spaghetti bolognaise?”. It was funny. This time, fortunately, it was the right dish.
I thought all waiters should have been trained to know their dishes – or how would they be able to make recommendations and explain what the dishes are like, to customers?
My mum tried to make conversation with another waiter by asking him how long the restaurant had been here. The man gave her a blank look and after a short while, concluded that it had been here for ‘a long time’. End of conversation.
Fortunately the food my family ordered was tasty and of good quality. However I wasn’t totally pleased with the fact that the pasta did not live up to the name of the restaurant. It was certainly not al dente, and neither had it been drained properly. It wasn’t swimming to the brim in water, but the sauce had been diluted. While the taste was decent, let’s say it definitely can’t beat anything by Valentino. I would definitely not pay $20 for my dish, which was what they charged.
The ambience was a saving grace – good music and a view of the bay. This is probably a one-off issue, but their chillout music CD kept skipping – and I know it wasn’t drum and bass because I also have the same CD!
Also, when we left the restaurant they had turned off the lights / blown out the candles along the staircase, so it was dark and we had to move slowly. Not customer friendly! A review at also mentions this problem. Interestingly, the only 2 reviews on this restaurant so far, are mixed – ‘poor food, good ambience’ and ‘good ambience, expensive price’. Our experience was similar – ‘OK food, poor service, good ambience’.
Looking back, I wouldn’t blame individual waiters but the overall management which did not supervise them and coordinate things properly. It also leaves us literally with food for thought. We’ve received much better service in countries where there is no fixed service charge. Waiters then have to earn their keep. Most of the time they do a good job at it, and deserve getting their 10-15% tip.
Let’s imagine now that our current fixed tipping system is changed to the Western model. And let’s pretend that all Singaporean customers will do the honorable thing (ha!) and tip good waiters generously. How often do you think you’d do this?


  1. jm.

    Pretty often, actually. I haven’t experienced poor service in Singapore frequently, although so much has been said about it. Perhaps I’m simply used to the standard of service here. Do you often compare local service and service you have received overseas?

  2. vantan

    jm. – that’s good to hear. All human beings are more likely to complain about bad experiences than praise good ones – and we’re also more likely to remember bad stories than pleasant ones.
    Having said that, the standard I’ve received in the US and Europe is generally better, though there are black sheep everywhere. We always tip good waiters. It’s also up to us customers to be nice in return.
    Over here, whether or not a waiter gives good service, I wonder if they get a bigger cut… or whether restaurants simply pocket the service charge themselves. It’s also the system, not only the culture/training.

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