Has anyone figured out a strategy to use coupon sites and enjoy the experience?
I loved the idea of Groupon, Living Social and their ilk, and I have mentioned some of local coupons on the blog. But they haven't paid off that often. We did splurge for a Venegas dinner that we probably wouldn't have done before, but we also lost our money at Hunan Taste when the coupon expired before it could inspire a drive to Catonsville.
That put me on the fence. I passed a few because I wasn't certain that we would use them. Saving $10 or $15 seems great. But I don't know if it justified paying $10-15 up front for a dinner that I might never enjoy.
Then we suffered a second failure last week at Tersiguel's. I wanted the coupon so that I could take Mrs. HowChow to a fancy lunch after she got off a month on call at the hospital. I didn't have $100 in the budget for a dinner, so I focused on the lunch that people have called a great way to enjoy Howard County's most famous restaurant.
Tersiguel's rejected the coupon. It says "$40 for Dinner," and they mean just dinner. Not lunch. The waitress handled us politely and perfectly, but it's not fun to have to read a gift certificate like a legal contract. The companies snuck one past me. I can't really complain -- especially because Mrs. HowChow said she wasn't surprised that "for dinner" was a limitation.
But I'm not going back. My coupon days are over unless I see something obvious -- or unless someone can explain how you make sure these are worth your investment. My work days are full of people trying to sneak fine print past me. When I go to a restaurant, I want to enjoy the kitchen's work, not deal with its attorney.
(Update #1: Check out the comments below. People are saying very reasonably to read the fine print, although the restrictions were strong yet variable enough that they were what made me ask the question in the first place. By 9:30 am, there were at least one fact and two more strategies that seemed to make a difference to me.
Fact: You can redeem some coupons for your purchase price even after the promotional piece expires. I didn't know. First strategy: Buy a bunch of coupons and just expect that you'll have some great dinner and some not-so-great. Brent The Brewer says "Roll the dice." Second strategy: Think of these deals as exchanging money for flexibility. Both may seem obvious, but I was using a "single night" mindset that may be why I was so mixed on my coupons. We eat out far less than some people think, but I may just plan on buying five coupons as a personal package!)
(Update #2: Check out the later post by one of the owners of Portalli's and Diamondback Tavern, who wrote about restaurants' view of coupon sites and how you can get the most from your experience.)
(Update #3: I should be explicit that DineHowardCounty.com sponsors HowChow. I'm very appreciative of their support. I absolutely recommend that people check out the site. Click the ad. They sell discount coupons too. I didn't really think that I was criticizing DineHowardCounty's competitors above. But I should mention the connection.)