A Singaporean seafood restaurant is under fire for promoting its crab dishes by inviting customers to catch their own via a claw machine – yes, the ones normally used for plushies.
For S$5 a try, those who managed to catch live Sri Lankan crabs from the machine, located outside the House of Seafood restaurant in Punggol, can have them cooked for free with a choice of black pepper sauce, salted egg sauce, chili or with bee hoon noodles.
Each crab weighs from 500g to 800g, according to online site SHOUT, which produced a promotional video for the restaurant that was posted to Facebook yesterday.
The video, which has been viewed more than 100,000 times, attracted hundreds of Facebook comments from people criticizing the restaurant for its “cheap” promotional tactic and animal cruelty, with some tagging the pages of authorities like NParks and animal welfare groups like the Animal Concerns Research & Education (ACRES) in their responses.
“NParks, for your attention and action, please. Such atrocious marketing ploy has to be shut down. Animals do not need to be subjected to such hideous marketing tactics,” one commenter wrote.
“This is very cruel. The crab will be dropped many times. Live creatures should be banned from such machines!” said another.
“I think that’s a terrible way of killing crabs. Warped way to play with your food. Just get it on and serve some decent food will you? Is your food so bad that you have to resort to such cheap tricks?” another wrote.
But critics are jumping to conclusions, House of Seafood CEO Francis Ng, 47, told Coconuts Singapore this afternoon, insisting that the machine had been designed to prevent causing the crabs any pain. (Editor: Yes, we’re aware there’s an ongoing debate over whether crustaceans feel pain as we know it.)
The opening on the bottom left of the claw machine, where customers claim their live crabs, is cushioned to support the animal’s fall, Ng told us over the phone from China, while the claws also have a plastic covering designed to soften their grip.
“First of all, I’m sorry to all animal caregivers. We did not intend to use animals as play things … we clean the game machine every day and let them survive in a good environment,” he said. “Many children in restaurants like crabs but dare not touch it. I hope that in this way, more people would understand crabs better and love them.”
Ng added that the idea behind the S$5,000 machine — which is in operation between 5pm and 10pm each day — was to educate the public on how to identify male and female crabs. We’ll leave it to you to decide the worthiness of that ostensibly educational effort.
Meanwhile, if NParks wish the machine be removed, Ng said he would respect their decision.
The live crab claw machine was introduced to customers on Oct. 13, according to the restaurant’s Facebook page. Customers also have the option of keeping the crab at the Chinese restaurant and save it for eating another day, the page said.
This is not House of Seafood’s first experiment with serve yourself machines. Two years ago it launched a chili crab dish vending machine, although there were no live crabs in that one.
The House of Seafood restaurant was founded by CEO Francis Ng in 2008 and first opened in Yio Chu Kang before launching its outlet at The Punggol Settlement cluster of seafront dining restaurants. House of Seafood also has outlets in Cambodia and Malaysia.
NParks did not respond to requests for comment before publication.