Saturday, January 14, 2012

Are You Enjoying Groupon and Living Social?

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.)

16 comments:

brandon said...

I agree, I've stopped buying groupons / restaurant.com certificates or the like because I've had mixed success.

Once Brewer's Art in Baltimore rejected it because the fine print said "for use in dining room only" and we were in the full service bar area.

Another time Frisco Grill rejected the coupon because the coupon company apparently sold the certificates for $1 when they weren't supposed to, but there was no way for us to know this until we presented the coupon.

Ultimately the point of going out is supposed to be to enjoy yourself and now whenever I use one of these coupons I feel myself getting annoyed during dinner wondering whether they're going to reject it. For me it's not worth it.

Julie said...

I have definitely started buying less and less coupons and if I do buy them I try to make sure I read all of the fine print before I buy them.

My biggest irritation was a coupon for Touche Touchet. I drove there on the day it expired only to find out that they were closed on Mondays. So, that one was a big waste of money. I also had a "dinner only" coupon to Eggspectations that I tried to use during lunch. We actually finally used that one last night for dinner. In both cases it was my oversight, but I agree I hate that there can be too many stipulations on these things!

Zevonista said...

The Groupon I have for Hunan Taste says that even after the promotional value ($30) expires, you can still use it for the amount paid ($15). Check yours, I expect you can at least get the value you paid back.

I pretty much buy these only for places where I go regularly. No problem spending a buck or two from restaurant.com for $25 worth of food at Elkridge Furnace Inn, Asean Bistro, Stained Glass Pub, etc.

jim said...

What's funny about these deals is that those deals are really about advertising your business. Places use Groupon/LS and Restaurant.com so they can reach new customers. When you start nitpicking the fine print, you only turn people off to your restaurant... the exact opposite of what you should be doing.

Elizabeth @ The Bare Midriff said...

I really enjoy deals on Groupon/Living Social. Yes, there have been some disappointments, but I love trying new restaurants, so why not try one and only waste half the money I would have wasted if I hadn't had a coupon?
Trying a new place is always a risk, and I appreciate that Groupons and the like take some of the brunt of the fall (if there is one).
We discovered Ranazul in Maple Lawn thanks to a Living Social deal, and I'm glad we had the coupon - that place is delicious, but expensive!

CaptainJeff said...

You can always use the coupon for what you paid for it (that part doesn't expire).

And, about the limitations, what do you expect? You're getting something that is ~50% off. In many cases, restaurants lose money on each one they fulfill. They do it for advertising and to get you in the door, hoping you'll come back. Often, the stipulations are designed to get people to come in during otherwise-quiet periods. For Eggspectations, they are crazy busy on weekend mornings and afternoons and happy hour time. They are very quiet during dinner time, so the coupon was designed to get people to come to dinner and see how great it can be at dinner. For Tersiguels, they already take a much reduced profit during lunchtime so the coupon was designed to get more business during dinner when they can better afford the reduced profit.

You're getting a great deal here. If you want something (money, in this case), you need to give something (flexibility). To complain about something expiring, or only being good during a period when the restaurant is better equipped to handle the implementation of the deal, is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

These deals are a great way to try a new place at 50% off, but you do have to read the fine print. I usually read it twice to make sure I can adhere to the rules. And I inform the waitress in advance that I am using it and make sure it is good for what I'm ordering. Yes, you do have to go the extra mile to cash in on the savings, but it is worth it.

As in all things, Buyer Beware!

Deal Seeker said...

Life has rules folks. The fine print and restrictions are there to protect a business' interest, where they feel they may need it. It's always been up to the consumer to read the fine print when there are coupons, or deals to be had. If you want the discount, you do the extra 'work'. If not, then pay full price. There has never been a 'free lunch'.

The good news is that with a little extra awareness, and small amount of effort, there are great deals to be had. One tip - ask up front if the coupon you are holding is accepted at the moment you are there. Second tip - read the restrictions first on the web site prior to purchasing, they are there, but usually missed on an impulse buy. A slight twist on an old phrase: "Buyer Be Aware."

Why Dinner and not lunch on so many of these? I would imagine a dinner patron is more likely to have an alcoholic beverage, dessert, etc that will help the business offset the discount of the coupon. It's simply smart business.

We've had a few frustrating snafus, mostly it seems with restaurant.com, but as a whole, using these as intended, we've had some great meals at new places that we otherwise would not have discovered or tried. It's also quite nice when we discover a discount at one of our favorite haunts.

Overall, it's generally been a breath of fresh air during this down time and its' economic impact on our lives, that likely will continue when things pick back up.

HowChow said...

@CaptainJeff -- I like your framing that the deal is a trade of money for flexibility. That's a smart way to think about it. But I do think I'm a step less than ridiculous. I'm just stating the fact that I've had these experiences that ended up being negative.

I wrote the post to ask if people had a strategy that worked. It's 9 am, and I already learned that the amount that I paid doesn't expire. I didn't know that. I figure that Elizabeth and CaptainJeff's responses could also be summarized as a second strategy: "Go to a bunch and expect that you'll have some great nights and some okay nights."

I don't think any of us are blaming the restaurants for missing the expiration date or for Julie showing up on a day when the restaurant is closed. I was just struck by the discomfort that Jim actually crystalized above: This is supposed to attract me to new restaurants, but even a nice meal gets tainted when a waiter has to quote fine print to you.

So again, I appreciate readers and people's ideas. I was really asking how people use these, and neither I nor the post blames the companies or the restaurants. (As I wrote, I wrote that *my wife* thought the dinner coupon was 100% clear. The waitress treated us perfectly, and I already posted about how much I enjoyed the sandwich.)

HowChow said...

@Anon and DealSeeker -- Thanks. You posted those while I was writing the comment above.

Brent The Brewer said...

I've probably bought more Groupons, Living Social, Eversave, Restaurant.com and Chewpon deals than most people. I love going out and I love trying new food. These coupons are enough to get me to roll the dice and get out to try new places.

The only one who usually has crazy rules is Restaurant.com and yeah you have to read the fine print. In a lot of cases though it is still worth it...at least to me.

Eddie Welker said...

I don't have any good advise, I'll just point out that you seem to be doing it exactly as I do it. Unless you're sure to hit a home run, avoid the temptation of these (google offers is another, less frequent provider).

Unless someone here has a great idea, it would seem that your approach is the approach to take.

Matt said...

We had a Double Take Deals (http://www.doubletakedeals.com) to Hickory Ridge Grill, which we used for a carry out order. The fine print said that the tip should be based on the pre-discounted amount. We certainly agreed with this as we always tip on the pre-discounted amount even when they remove something from our bill. We were completely blown away when they charged us an 18% tip on our carry out order! When my wife questioned it, they said that they have the right to charge this since it states that tip is based on the pre-discounted amount. That's the last time we ate there!

Anonymous said...

As others have mentioned the groupon and living social vouchers can be redeemed for the purchase price after they are expired so you actually don't lose anything. I have had more frustration with restaurant.com where the restaurants just decide to stop honoring the certificates and you don't find out until after you've eaten somewhere you otherwise would not have. I think if the restaurant stops honoring them they need to inform those who have bought them and issue a refund. Now I just stopped using restaurant.com coupons completely.

EastCoastMatt said...

I bought a chewpon for a carribean joint that i didn't read the fine print to. apparently, it's only valid mon-fri between 4-7. I just let it expire, because i couldn't get there in time....

I still have a couple other groupons that I need.

Morty Abzug said...

Various articles have found that Groupon and equivalent coupon sites tend to hurt the companies in question. The coupons are at deep discounts, and half the money goes to Groupon. That means that the restaurant is only getting 25% of the face value of the coupon -- which is pretty bad, considering that most restaurants already operate on tight margins.

Then, the popularity of Groupon causes a whole bunch of people who would not normally have gone to the restaurant to buy the coupon. This overwhelms the restaurant for a short time. Many restaurants have problems serving all these customers. And because the customers are getting 75% discounts, a lot of restaurants take a substantial loss.

The restaurants are trapped into doing coupons because their peers are doing it. If everyone else is getting (expensive) advertising, you have to, too -- the business is too low margin to take risks. But it's bad for them.

So I make a point of never visiting the coupon websites. I'd rather learn of new restaurants using websites such as this one.