Toledo Talk

Advice re: restaurant.com?

Hey, TT, if you have had any experience using restaurant.com certificates, would you please fill us in? I saw a few restaurants with tempting offers, but wonder if it's everything it's cracked up to be.

created by luvtoledo on Feb 09, 2012 at 11:45:30 am     Business     Comments: 48

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Comments ... #

I use them all over and love them.

posted by OhioKimono on Feb 09, 2012 at 12:05:09 pm     #  

Most of the restaurant owners I know hate the website! They're great for customers but not very good for businesses.

posted by upso on Feb 09, 2012 at 12:12:50 pm     #   2 people liked this

Same here. Make sure you absolutely understand the terms of the certificate you are buying before you purchase. Here are a few different variations that are typical:

*minimum purchase of two entrees

*minimum purchase of $35 (on a $25 certificate...higher on higher value certificates)

*15% gratuity included before discount

*18% gratuity included before discount

Even with gratuity included, I usually kick it up to 20% or more on the check for the waiter.

Really look at the terms and see if it's a "deal". Some are bogus (i.e. $20 for a $25 certificate--umm, no thanks). Some terms may seem unworkable for two (saw one that wanted 2 appetizers & 2 entrees & 2 desserts ordered--and this was an expensive restaurant--for a $25 discount certificate).

WATCH FOR THIS: Get a restaurant.com account and wait for their e-mails announcing 70%/80%/90% off sales--you end up getting $25 certificates for a dollar or two. Match that with a "good offer" certificate and you'll be very pleased.

Oh, and I've only had one certificate refused (and I've gone to about 50 restaurants all over the country with these things). So...just to be safe...when you make your reservation, double check that they still accept the certificate. If they've decided to stop accepting, you can trade that certificate on the restaurant.com website for a different restaurant.

Happy eating!

posted by oldhometown on Feb 09, 2012 at 12:14:40 pm     #  

I heard the same thing that upso did for owners. I personally have done them a couple of times, but the catches get you. I also watch slickdeals.net for the discount codes to get the certificates for next to nothing.

posted by smbfc on Feb 09, 2012 at 12:30:22 pm     #  

Do the math, and make sure it adds up. Some with a minimum purchase amount only equal about a 10% discount, others are more. I have found Groupon discounts to generally have less restrictions. OHT's recommendations are spot on.

I don't like to use them on vacations, because 9 out of 10 times you end up at a place that panders to those who don't know better to stay open. I like to find the hole in the wall places that locals eat at and pay a little more instead. Yelp is great for that.

posted by brainswell on Feb 09, 2012 at 01:21:44 pm     #   1 person liked this

Thanks, everyone, for your contributions so far.

Upso, a question: Don't the restaurants agree to participate?

I would hate to take part in anything that clearly disadvantages the owners (esp. indee resaurants, which, like brainswell, I always prefer). But if the owner is participating in this, isn't the assumption that it ends up being more or less a marketing cost -- that is, aren't you trying to get folks to sample your restaurant who might otherwise not come in?

Your input appreciated!

posted by luvtoledo on Feb 09, 2012 at 01:38:39 pm     #  

PS -- OHT, thanks for your very useful words of advice. As for tipping, I never tip less than 20% and, even if there's some kind of discount, never tip on anything but the full bill, before discount. I used to wait tables. I know how hard that job is!

posted by luvtoledo on Feb 09, 2012 at 01:40:51 pm     #  

I love them. I got a boat load of them last thanksgiving (the one that was more than a year ago). They were all $25 gift certificates, and with the promotional code then, they all came to $2 each. And as some said, there are guidelines you have to follow in terms of hitting a total, not counting alcohol, etc, but really... it's $23 in the pocket. The gf and I were fortunate enough to dine out very frequently during my last couple months in Orlando thanks to these.

posted by Johio83 on Feb 09, 2012 at 01:50:39 pm     #  

Upso, a question: Don't the restaurants agree to participate?

I would hate to take part in anything that clearly disadvantages the owners (esp. indee resaurants, which, like brainswell, I always prefer). But if the owner is participating in this, isn't the assumption that it ends up being more or less a marketing cost -- that is, aren't you trying to get folks to sample your restaurant who might otherwise not come in?

this is all anecdotal
but I have been told on many occasions, by many people that the website isn't run in favor of the restaurants.
for one, a restaurant can opt out (after doing a trial run of coupons) and often restaurants.com will keep the coupon online.
Customers will pay for the coupon with the expectation that it is valid, and be turned down or worse find out after they've already ordered their food it's not a valid coupon.

I've also heard from some restaurants who NEVER signed up, finding out they are listed with coupons on the site.

I think the problem is, a majority of mom & pop restaurants are not very tech savy and are taken advantage of by sales people. they either don't realize they are signing up, or misunderstand the terms and they end up looking very bad in the process.

I've read several reviews on Yelp.com from angry customers who go to a restaurant expecting a good meal, and end up having some sort of negative interaction with a frustrated owner who doesn't understand why they are online.

Personally, when groupon, restaurants.com or any of the other coupon sites call my restaurant, I immediately hang up the phone on them. no thanks!

posted by upso on Feb 09, 2012 at 04:04:59 pm     #   1 person liked this

Customers will pay for the coupon with the expectation that it is valid, and be turned down or worse find out after they've already ordered their food it's not a valid coupon.

...which is why I suggested calling ahead in my post and asking if they still accept the certificates. I don't want to be mad and I don't want the restaurant to be mad at me...plus it might alert them that their restaurant is still on the site.

Obviously I don't run a restaurant like you, upso, but I can't imagine you taking your frustrations out on a customer because of a media partner's screw-up/omission/blatant misuse. I've never had a bad experience in your place and, of course, it's one of the (many) reasons I keep going back.

Whether or not restaurant.com is good/bad, once the customer is in your door, I'm sure as a good restaurateur you would work something out with them and not make them feel like they did something wrong....and then go rage at the web proprietors messing with your business!

posted by oldhometown on Feb 09, 2012 at 04:39:15 pm     #  

We've used them a few times and have liked them. I agree with those who say wait for the deals by email. I bought my family a $50 dinner at Maumee Bay Brewing for like $3 plus tip.

I also want to stress reading the terms for each one. For example most downtown places won't accept the coupon on Mudhen home game days. Many places won't let it be used for alcohol or for carry out. Virtually all have a mandatory 15% gratuity (15% of original price). So if you're cool with tipping the standard regardless of how awesome or horiffically terrible your waitstaff is, you're cool. It doesn't hurt to call ahead, although I've found showing it before you order is sufficient and have yet to find a restaurant that won't accept it.

That said I plan on getting gift certs for both the Hathaway House and Stables and trying them out.

posted by taliesin52 on Feb 09, 2012 at 04:58:49 pm     #  

I hate 'em. I even mailed my coupon to the Budapest to the owner of Grumpy's. The fact that many places, such as the Briarfield Cafe and Brownstone will no longer honor them, annoys me to no end.

posted by inga on Feb 09, 2012 at 09:35:11 pm     #  

I don't understand the connection you're making between the Budapest restaurant and Grumpys restaurant? Can you please explain a little more?

posted by upso on Feb 10, 2012 at 12:59:47 am     #  

We've learned to ask before ordering. I've been in too many places where the waitress brings the check back and cheerfully informs me that 'we don't accept this coupon anymore'. And, as Upso pointed out, the devil is in the details. Expiration dates and a list of conditions as long as your arm will invalidate the offer. Note that all of these are written in type so fine you need a microscope to decipher it.

posted by madjack on Feb 10, 2012 at 11:20:06 am     #  

upso posted at 11:59:47 PM on Feb 09, 2012:

I don't understand the connection you're making between the Budapest restaurant and Grumpys restaurant? Can you please explain a little more?

I assumed that she saw you post previously how much you like the Budapest, so she thought perhaps you'd get some use out of the coupon.

(Could be wrong on that, of course, but that's how I took the comment when I first read it.)

posted by mom2 on Feb 10, 2012 at 11:30:58 am     #  

problem is, the restaurant ends up getting like 5 on the dollar. that's terrible for business and totally unsustainable. it's kind of disgusting an offer like that would even exist. restaurant's food costs are at least 50% so they'll be taking a MAJOR loss on everyone that uses those coupons. ugh

posted by upso on Feb 11, 2012 at 10:13:14 pm     #  

The real problem is that when you figure cost of product, rent/mortgage, utilities, insurance, employees, taxes, licenses, and miscellaneous expenses, and then you get a fraction of those costs back through those deals that look so good to the consumer, the proprietor cannot sustain the good deals --or his business. Also, most of the people that buy those deals are bargain hunters to begin with and rarely return to your place to pay the full price that can actually keep a business running. Those deals are deathtraps for businesses.

posted by pete on Feb 11, 2012 at 11:14:49 pm     #  

But upso - restaurants sign up for it, correct? I realize that in the past, there have been cases of restaurants not realizing they were still a part of it. But at some point in time, they signed up for it. I would hope that a restaurant owner would have the business savvy to read the fine print on these deals before agreeing to take part in them. Any customer who uses these coupons should NEVER be made to feel bad about it. Especially in this economy.

posted by dell_diva on Feb 11, 2012 at 11:15:22 pm     #   1 person liked this

dell_diva, only idiot owner participate in these schemes. Most are desperate to get more people in their place. It's like a hail Mary pass at a football game. Great for the consumer... while it lasts.

posted by pete on Feb 11, 2012 at 11:20:01 pm     #  

I read a critique of Groupon's business model recently in which it was mentioned that people who are comfortable getting deals online are web-savvy enough to write Yelp and other reviews.

What seemed to happen, from the restaurant owner's perspective, is that strangers would come in, spend the least amount of money possible, then post a mediocre or disparaging review.

And, as pete pointed out, they never come back to buy a meal at full price. And the online review never goes away.

posted by viola on Feb 12, 2012 at 11:51:43 am     #  

I rarely pay full price for any meals. Between restaurant.com, Groupon, Living Social, Halfprice Toledo, and the 5 Entertainment Books I bought for $15/ea, I don't have to. I understand it is a crap deal for the restaurant owner, but their business is none of mine. I have my own business to run.

posted by HickoryG on Feb 12, 2012 at 03:37:01 pm     #  

HickoryG, people like you are the reason these "deals" are poison pills for businesses. Enjoy those almost-free meals while you can because I expect restaurant businesses are going to wise up real soon to all the Groupons and Restaurant.coms in the world. I myself prefer to spend my money at businesses without discounts and so help them remain in business. There really is no such thing as a free lunch or at least not for long and I really consider it unethical to freeload off of businesses that are trying to attract long-term customers.

posted by pete on Feb 12, 2012 at 03:46:49 pm     #  

Then they can choose to not participate. And I don't "freeload". I accept the terms of the offer THEY present. I don't make the rules, just follow them.

posted by HickoryG on Feb 12, 2012 at 03:51:36 pm     #   2 people liked this

I used to sell cars. Over 200 per year. Know how many people came in and paid the sticker price?

posted by HickoryG on Feb 12, 2012 at 03:53:08 pm     #  

Probably not many, but I'll bet you never sold a car for half of your asking price. You'd have been out of business. Now if you don't care whether your favorite restaurant remains in business, then don't go there unless you can get something almost free. They won't be open long and you'll have to look for another sucker who will feed you for nothing.

posted by pete on Feb 12, 2012 at 04:51:16 pm     #  

I don't understand you argument Pete. If it is terrible for restaurants, then don't participate. If they aren't smart enough to understand what these offers mean to their bottom line, then I suspect they aren't going to be business much longer regardless. It's called capitalism. The best and brightest succeed.

posted by slowsol on Feb 12, 2012 at 04:54:46 pm     #  

I guess what Pete is trying to say is that if you are going to a restaurant who is offering a half-off deal, you should still pay full price to keep the restaurant in business? Seems logical enough.

posted by HickoryG on Feb 12, 2012 at 05:06:54 pm     #  

Pete, how hard is it for you to understand - the restaurant owners have to agree to these deals. Nobody's holding a gun to their head and forcing them to offer these discounts.

posted by dell_diva on Feb 12, 2012 at 05:15:10 pm     #  

Actually, a lot of these business guys do not understand what they are getting into, namely, that there is a mass of people who are bargain hunting and who never intend to go back to their business and pay full price for a meal. These restaurants are desperate in some cases to get people into their places and are sweet-talked by some sales guy, who tells them their business is going to increase hugely. I consider that to be borderline deceptive and dishonest.

You are right that some owners are not "smart enough" in the sense that they don't understand all the implications and don't have enough data to evaluate fully what the deal will do to them. Maybe that is their fault and they are not the "best and brightest" to succeed. Maybe they should go under and we should forget about them.

But I suspect that there is a lot of dishonesty on both the part of the companies profiting from these programs and on the part of people taking advantage of them. We all know why a restaurant offers these things: to get new people to come in for the first time as a trial and then to come back again and spend some money with them. The owners are not in the business of giving away free food. They have to at least break even to survive. By taking advantage of all these free offers (with no intention of returning or ever going to the place again) is in my mind breaking a kind of unspoken contract with the restaurant. We all understand what the contract is. You try my food at bargain prices and, if you like it, come back again and pay full price.

A customer who lives off of these deals with no intention of ever returning is breaking that unspoken contract and is freeloading in my book. I think it's unethical.

posted by pete on Feb 12, 2012 at 05:21:50 pm     #  

So we're unethical for violating an "unspoken" contract and not coming back to pay full price? That's your argument? I have an "unspoken" contract with strippers were if I buy a $20 dance with them, I expect them to blow me. Not one of them has ever lived up to that contract. Unethical bitches!

posted by HickoryG on Feb 12, 2012 at 05:31:59 pm     #   1 person liked this

I disagree. This "unspoken contract" means little to me, as I don't buy into it and have never considered it. This is not a question of ethics. Unless you are questioning the ethics of the salesperson that deceives these owners. But all I have to go on that this actually happens is your word. So I can't dispute it.

I buy coupons to restaurants I like. People shouldn't be judged or made to feel bad simply because they took advantage of a deal that the owners of the restaurant themselves agreed to.

I think your opinion is of the minority on this. Which is fine. Opinions are like...

posted by slowsol on Feb 12, 2012 at 05:33:49 pm     #  

Know any strippers that give out half-price blowjobs? We're talking restaurant here, not prostitutes.

posted by pete on Feb 12, 2012 at 05:34:33 pm     #  

Unless you are questioning the ethics of the salesperson that deceives these owners

i will say the sales pitch is very sleazy and borderline unethical.
groupon calls me 3 - 10 times a month, always with a new sales rep and always with the same ridiculous pitch. if it was my grandparents answering the phone instead of me, we'd be out a lot of money.

but yes, always do research before you buy into anything like this (wether you're a customer or a business owner)

posted by upso on Feb 12, 2012 at 05:41:48 pm     #   1 person liked this

@slowsol. I am only questioning the guy who buys a gajillion of these "free" deals just so he can get cut-rate prices with no intention of returning. If your favorite place, which you go to often, offers something, then I don't see anything wrong with that. It's the guy who lives off them that I object to. He's like a guy who goes into the supermarket and grazes all morning off the samples put out for customers so he can save himself the price of a meal. If you're that cheap, go to the Cherry Street Mission where you can get a free meal!

All these freeloaders are doing is helping to put those restaurants out of business.

posted by pete on Feb 12, 2012 at 05:42:30 pm     #  

I'm about to go to the Anderson's Market in Sylvania. I have an Entertainment coupon for $3 off my $20 purchase. I better call ahead to make sure the Anderson family can afford it. I certainly wouldn't want them to close up shop because of my cheap ass.

I noticed Good Morning Holland was closed up today. I used a Groupon, and Half-Priced Toledo, and an entertainment coupon over the past 3 months there. I would like to apologize to the owners for causing their closure. I really doubt it was because of me, rather the crappy service everytime I went in, but I violated the unspoken contract, so I'm sorry.

In all seriousness, if a business owner is participating in an activity that is not good for their business, then that is their problem. I owe fiduciary duties to my family and clients, and that is it.

posted by HickoryG on Feb 12, 2012 at 05:56:15 pm     #   1 person liked this

It's not an unspoken contract, its an expectation on the owners part that people will behave in the manner they wish them to. I'm sure that the restaurant owners have the expectation that the online coupons will bring in new customers and I also think they expect some of those people to return even without a coupon. The problem I am thinking is that the people that use online coupons just aren't the market they need to reach. Those people, being completely stereotypical, are probably only going to go where they can get a coupon for it, other than their own personal favorite places which might not be subject to change. I also think that a lot of the restaurant owners are wrong in thinking that an online coupon can replace traditional advertising or just word of mouth referals for their business. I dont know how Groupon works or the other online coupon things. If there was some way to limit how many or for how long they ran I think it might reduce the abuse of the coupons.

posted by Linecrosser on Feb 12, 2012 at 05:56:30 pm     #  

There are limits Linecrosser. You can typically only buy 2, and they expire within a set time. The owner sets that time limit. They also set limits as to how many they offer. When they are gone, they are gone.

posted by HickoryG on Feb 12, 2012 at 06:05:37 pm     #  

Yes, there are limits and groupon is more and more open to letting the businesses make up their own terms. When the first started contacting me a year ago, it was their terms or nothing. Now you can custom taylor your ads to say, breakfast only, or a limit on the amount you sell.

It's the people that don't know what they're getting into, and end up selling a boat load of coupons at a massive loss that are shit out of luck. 60 minutes recently did a piece on groupon and used an example of a cupcake shop in england that went out of business after her coupon sale was so "successful"

posted by upso on Feb 12, 2012 at 06:23:40 pm     #  

Hey, Hickory ... are you saying that Good Morning Holland is out of business? I don't get over that way very often :-(

posted by viola on Feb 12, 2012 at 07:11:29 pm     #  

I'm not sure they are out of business, or maybe closed for another reason. I couldn't read the sign at 55 MPH.

posted by HickoryG on Feb 12, 2012 at 07:52:09 pm     #  

A customer does nothing wrong in using coupons, and to say there is an "unspoken contract" to come back and pay full price is absurd. Is everyone who cuts out a coupon in the Sunday paper (let alone uses it at a store on "Double Coupon Day") a freeloader? Preposterous...

Here's what usually happens with my wife and I: We find a place we either (a) like already or (b) want to try. We get one of the coupons and go. I am partial to the "must order 2 entrees" deal for a $25 gift certificate...and usually the place is one that offers entrees anywhere between $18-$25. So one of us eats for "free"....but don't forget:

1.) 18% gratuity is guaranteed to the server--he/she is taken care of already (and we chip in to take it over 20%).

2.) We usually order an appetizer we wouldn't have gotten if paying "full price"...

3.) ...or wine we wouldn't have gotten if paying "full price"

What is the difference between what I BOUGHT (for $2) to get a discount and restaurants that put in the newspaper dining section "2 for 1" specials, "free appetizer" specials, "Mother's Day" specials, etc? Is everyone who shows up for all you can eat BBQ rib night at the Sizzler a freeloader??? Or gets a discount airfare? Or finds a deal on a vacation package?

Incidentally, do you take any tax deductions (even the standard deduction)? Yep, freeloader...

Rule of finance #1: People act in their own economic self interest. The restaurants (whether foolishly or not) believe this will help them. The customers know it will help them if they can find the right deal.

Why wouldn't I return to a restaurant? The same reasons I wouldn't return when paying full price: shit service, shit food, bad atmosphere, noticeably unclean, etc. But it is none of my concern how the restaurant chooses to market itself. If you throw 1,000 certificates on restaurant.com, don't bitch that people use them. If you offer 2 for one Kobe beef burgers all night long, don't be surprised that 5,000 people show up. But the bottom line is...no customer is at fault because a restaurant (or any other establishment) can't manage their damn marketing.

Eat up!

posted by oldhometown on Feb 12, 2012 at 11:13:50 pm     #   1 person liked this

O.k., I knew I was going to get shit for this, but I will stand by what I said... which was "I am only questioning the guy who buys a gajillion of these "free" deals just so he can get cut-rate prices with no intention of returning. If your favorite place, which you go to often, offers something, then I don't see anything wrong with that. It's the guy who lives off them that I object to."

I did NOT say using a coupon to get a discount was wrong. Read what the fuck I said, please.

posted by pete on Feb 12, 2012 at 11:36:21 pm     #  

Read what the fuck I said, please.

You've said a lot. Here's what the fuck else you said:

We all know why a restaurant offers these things: to get new people to come in for the first time as a trial and then to come back again and spend some money with them. The owners are not in the business of giving away free food. They have to at least break even to survive. By taking advantage of all these free offers (with no intention of returning or ever going to the place again) is in my mind breaking a kind of unspoken contract with the restaurant. We all understand what the contract is. You try my food at bargain prices and, if you like it, come back again and pay full price.

A customer who lives off of these deals with no intention of ever returning is breaking that unspoken contract and is freeloading in my book.

Read that last statement and try to rationalize it with "I did NOT say using a coupon to get a discount was wrong". Really? So, if you use more than you're allowed (by someone else's standards of course), THEN you're a freeloader? What is the freeloading line? 2 in a month? 5? 10 in a month? 15?

There is no unspoken contract. If they want a contract, here's one: you can't use a restaurant.com gift certificate more than once every 6 months. Then police it--that'll kill those certificates in a hurry (nobody will want to deal with that provision or arguing with customers).

It isn't any customer's fault if they go out and buy 1, 10, or 100 groupons/living social/restaurant.com/etc. deals and nobody is forcing businesses to participate. Nobody forces businesses to do anything--these are attempts to market the restaurant and generate word of mouth. If the management OK's 3,000 half-price deals to go out the doors, that's not my fault, nor does it obligate me to return.

Yeah, there are cynical bastards who will dine and dash, but there are others who are taking a restaurant up on their offer and leave with a positive impression.

To label people freeloaders because they take advantage of deals that are freely offered--or they PAY whatever little amount for--is silly.

posted by oldhometown on Feb 13, 2012 at 12:14:49 am     #   1 person liked this

We use our WGTE membership card to eat half-price at a surprising number of Toledo restaurants. The card is renewable every year, so all the restaurants which participate understand that certain patrons will come back year after year, one time, to collect the freebie.

I don't feel bad getting a very steep discount from the restaurants because it's a three-way win: WGTE gets our financial support, the restaurants get a stream of public-radio/TV customers, and we get a cheap meal which we might not have bothered to drive to otherwise.

In the greater Toledo area membership zone are: Pollyeye's Campus BG, Briarfield Cafe, Village Idiot, all the Paneras, Blue Pacific Grill, Calvino's, Manos, Monroe St. Diner, Original Pancake House, Tom's BBQ on Front St. and many more.

The discount territory also includes restaurants in Defiance, Findlay, Lima all the way up to Ann Arbor and Detroit.

posted by viola on Feb 13, 2012 at 12:41:11 pm     #  

My only connection about Budapest and Grumpy's was this: I received a coupon.com to Budapest as an unwanted gift and offered it to anyone here last year. The owner of Grumpy's said he wanted it so I mailed it to him. :)

posted by inga on Feb 13, 2012 at 06:42:16 pm     #  

haha! that's right! I ended up giving it to my friends who had a great time. We paid full price for our visits and are very sad to see it recently closed. :(

posted by upso on Feb 13, 2012 at 08:25:33 pm     #  

"We paid full price for our visits"

Good for you! You know what I've been trying to say. As business owners, both of us know that these giveaways are unsustainable -and fatal-- if they don't generate some kind of payback. Moochers cannot support any business. And I feel sorry for those owners who are crazy enough to participate in these schemes.

posted by pete on Feb 13, 2012 at 08:48:51 pm     #