Why I hate restaurant coupons

Horse Mackerel at Unagi

Horse Mackerel at Unagi in Troy NY: a rare good restaurant coupon experience where we ate so much sushi that the value of our Groupon could have been a rounding error

I’ve pretty much stopped using restaurant coupons—those pay-in-advance online purchases through Groupon, LivingSocial or LocalFlavor which typically take 50% off the price of your meal. Part of the problem is the bad juju fostered by LocalFlavor, which I’ve written about previously. But there’s more.

I guess there must be a lot of fraud nowadays, because when I present the coupon the server whisks it away for a tense conversation with the manager. There’s usually no acknowledgement or reassurance once the document’s authenticity is established, so I enter the ordering process feeling like a low life penny pincher (perhaps separated at birth from Chef Colose’s Restaurant Week patrons) rather than an adventurous diner who wants to save a buck or two. Often, the server treats me throughout the meal as if I’m getting away with something (possibly because they are worried about their tip, which I always base on the full value of the meal). It turns eating out into a joyless affair.

Granted, I’ve also had restaurant coupon experiences with none of the aforementioned negativity (most typically with Groupon, but caveat emptor because they’ve started reselling LocalFlavor deals). The server is polite and gracious, the meal is excellent, and I leave feeling like I’ve had a great deal and will be back for more at full price. But you don’t know this will happen till it does.

In fact, when I use one of my dwindling supply of deals (usually from LocalFlavor since they seem to have taken over the space) I now go in with the assumption that the coupon will NOT be honored and I’ll still have my meal since I entered the restaurant with the notion of dining there. Thus, in the worst case scenario instead of saving 50% on my meal I’ll pay 150% of the retail price—what’s on the menu plus the cost of my coupon which is now worthless. I don’t think this is the way it’s supposed to work.

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4 Responses to Why I hate restaurant coupons

  1. itsmeval says:

    I see no reason to inform them of any coupons until i receive the bill. The meal and service should be the quality and the payment should be well received..afterall..it brought you there and they iniated the coupon for advertising..everyone is paid..including the waitstaff..as agreed by the coupon company and the advertised business. I disclose the form of payment when the bill is presented.

    • Burnt My Fingers says:

      I think the biggest problem, probably caused by LocalFlavor and other sales reps, is that the restaurant doesn’t understand they are paying an advertising cost. It’s as if they were promised new customers would magically appear with no cost or commitment on their part.

      I would be a little nervous waiting till the end of the meal to present the coupon if it says on its face that it must be presented in advance. I do, however, decline to say I’ve got a coupon when making a phone reservation. No reason to risk getting turned away in favor of a full-price customer..

      • itsmeval says:

        Haha..dont be nervous..the food will be in your tummy..what can they do to ya? It is all fair and square they did commit to it! Most peope i dine with act like i am taking advantage of a place by using their coupon..i don’t get that either! Thanks for your blog..i find it interesting and informative..as i draw near the finer things..

  2. Burnt My Fingers says:

    I don’t like the idea of a battle with the restaurant as a digestif.

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