Breakthrough, Iloilo City

This isn’t going to be a happy post, despite the fact that Breakthrough is one of Iloilo City‘s most well-known restaurants. Breakthrough is the kind of restaurant you bring out-of-town guests to. It’s the type of restaurant that caters to almost any type of big group, be it families, friends, or co-workers. It’s the kind of restaurant that’s known for good food, with customers picking their own seafood and telling the kitchen exactly how they want it cooked and served; and reasonable prices. What it isn’t known for is being the kind of establishment that jacks up the price on hapless tourists. This year, we found out the hard way that a nice family restaurant has started grossly overpricing out-of-town visitors.

I have eaten in Breakthrough before. In fact, it is one of the few things I remember from my first trip to Iloilo city back in the 90s. I remember the native design, the availability of washing stations in the shape of clay pots with faucets near the bottom, and I remember the scallops, big and fat and juicy and forever spoiling me for other restaurant-served bivalves. I was pretty excited to be back.

Breakthrough didn’t fail in the food department. After making sure that we were to be charged according to the seafood we picked, plus labor for cooking, my friend set about ordering for all of us. We were a group of ten, so we were expecting to pay a lot. But seeing as this was Iloilo, where seafood was cheap and plentiful, and seeing that we had paid less than a thousand bucks the last time we were at a seafood grill, we didn’t expect it to be that expensive. We certainly didn’t expect to get charged prices that were higher than if we had eaten in Manila.

We had the baked scallops, of course. I wasn’t about to leave the restaurant without having those.

Breakthrough - Baked Scallops

And a tanigue steak, which I wasn’t too fond of because it was quite tough,

Breakthrough - Tangigue Steak

and kilawin, raw fish marinated in vinegar, coconut milk and chili, making the sauce a good combination of creamy and spicy and tart,

Breakthrough - Kinilaw

and grilled squid, this one almost as big as my arm.

Breakthrough - Grilled Squid

We also had sizzling crab, which was delicious, the herbs and margarine boosting the crab’s natural sweetness and adding another savory layer to the whole thing.

But wait! There’s more! We had baked talaba (oysters), sugpo (prawns) and a crab so big I broke out in a rash after eating it.

Breakthrough - Bakes Oysters
Breakthrough - Sugpo, two ways.
Breakthrough - Chili Crab

All of these were excellent. When the bill came, however, we were shocked to find out that we had been severely, blatantly overcharged. The amount they quoted us would have been enough for a decent meal for about five people in a  five star hotel. It cost as much as a good-sized fast food children’s party. When we asked for the breakdown, we were informed that we were charged per piece, not per kilo of seafood, and the charge for cooking labor was per piece or per kilo, not per dish as well. This means if we ordered a kilo of shrimp, we were charged for each piece, plus a cooking charge for each piece as well. For items like the crab, we were charged labor per kilo, as opposed to a flat rate for the whole crab.

What would have been a great meal became one that ended in anger and frustration. How could what is very well an institution blatantly overcharge customers, just because they don’t happen to live in the area? Do they think that just because they won’t be seeing these people again, it’s okay to steal their money? Do they think that said tourists won’t tell their friends? Did they think that cheating in the short term was going to bring them more business in the long run?

At first, we thought that maybe they really did raise their prices. At first, we figured maybe we didn’t ask the right questions, and that there was some sort of confusion when it came to communicating with the staff. But then our host returned the next month, this time accompanied by local relatives. Their group was a bit bigger than ours, and they ordered the same, if not more food than we did. Their bill came up to about half than ours. Later, our hosts American cousins told her that they experienced the same thing from the same restaurant earlier this year. That’s when we knew for sure that we had been overpriced, that Breakthrough’s management had blatantly inflated their computation. The food is good, but we are never going back there again.


Why bother? They'll probably overcharge you anyway.




Yvette Natalie U. Tan is a multi-awarded author of horror fiction and the Agriculture section editor of Manila Bulletin.

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