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Discount Coupons Warning List


DonRocks
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I would think that as much as any diner in the United States, I am acutely (perhaps uniquely) aware of the pestilent effect that discount coupons are having on restaurants. It is an epic, industry-wide disaster, and is only getting worse as time goes by.

We can all debate the why's and the how's, but as a consumer, I'm more concerned about the who's. I purposely avoided a restaurant tonight, knowing that their coupon is expiring in five days, because I didn't want to suffer through yet another terrible dining experience.

It would be unfair, perhaps even cruel, to maintain a Warning List of restaurants to avoid without any advance notice to the participants, but I think going forward, and especially in the long term, such a list cannot be ruled out.

Yes, it's that bad. Restaurants are altering their inner fabric to adjust to a coupon-based economic system.

On the upside, Restaurant Week is on the endangered species list due to redundancy.

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Don, this post is really timely for me. Several weeks ago I removed myself from all email mailing lists for discount coupons including: Groupon, Living Social, Specialious, et al. I've had it with the coupons. The small amount that I might save is not worth the damage that I see it doing to the businesses that participate. Also, as a consumer, the coupons start to feel like an albatross around your neck -- OMG, I've GOT to get to this restaurant/candy shop TODAY or it's going to expire!

Let's start a movement: Say NO to the Coupon!

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I don't do the coupons because if they are for someplace I like and go to anyway, it makes me feel bad to use them. And if it's not someplace I would go to anyway, the fact that they are cheaper doesn't make them any more attractive.

But now that I think about it, how does it differ, conceptually, from Restaurant Week?

For people with less disposable montly income, a chance to try someplace you could never afford, comfortably.

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I just want an app that tracks all the coupons I've bought and reminds me periodically to use them. I have a reservation for PS 7 for lunch on Tuesday. I don't think the Bloomspot coupons are as big as living social or groupon but I expect they'll be busy since it expires the next day. I just haven't gotten over there before now.

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Yes, it's that bad. Restaurants are altering their inner fabric to adjust to a coupon-based economic system.

I guarantee the businesses aren't moaning about it. Most of the time, a Groupon or Livingsocial deal is free money for the business, even with the cut taken out. The number that go unredeemed is huge.

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(emphasis mine)

Then there's that one case where it wipes out a year's profits in one fell swoop.

How interesting. Two references to the same (very poor) business-woman who over-discounted her cupcakes and underestimated demand. I seem to remember that you can set a limit on the number of coupons to be sold. Why didn't she limit the number and why did she decide she needed to sell her cupcakes at a $13/dozen loss? Somehow, I find myself lacking pity for this nice (but misguided) lady.

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How interesting. Two references to the same (very poor) business-woman who over-discounted her cupcakes and underestimated demand. I seem to remember that you can set a limit on the number of coupons to be sold. Why didn't she limit the number and why did she decide she needed to sell her cupcakes at a $13/dozen loss? Somehow, I find myself lacking pity for this nice (but misguided) lady.

(I totally wouldn't have posted if I had seen dcs' post on the same article -- and it looks like we were actually posting right at the same time, too.)

Not saying this woman used the system well, but it would be interesting to know how open the companies themselves are with the small businesspeople, telling them how they can mitigate any possible difficulties (like setting a limit on how many can be sold, etc).

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I've had good and bad RW experiences, and good and bad coupon experiences.

I'm not so arrogant to think that I have to protect a restaurant against their own judgement though.

Don, you've said that this is an "epic, industry wide disaster", but I've never seen any specifics in terms of restaurants that are being hurt.

Can you, or any restaurants that are on here with couponing experiences, give us some examples?

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Let me tell you about a couple of coupons that will expire soon. Tackle Box expires on Dec. 16, 2011. Motherf**kers didn't reopen their G'town branch until yesterday, otherwise I would've used it already. Nostos expires on Dec. 31, 2011. I bought these on Sept. 12, so Bloomspot gave me a short fuse - f*ck them too.

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(emphasis mine)

Then there's that one case where it wipes out a year's profits in one fell swoop.

That case is catastrophic, but she made an exceedingly bad deal. Some people should really hire outside help with their marketing. You absolutely can limit the number of coupons offered.

Dean, I have heard between 10 and 50% depending on the business and the specifics of the offer. Ours was closer to 25% unused.

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Don, you've said that this is an "epic, industry wide disaster", but I've never seen any specifics in terms of restaurants that are being hurt.

Groupon implicated in closing of C. Tsar's restaurant in Newton, MA

According to Malloy’s email, the Groupon deal was also a factor in their having to close up shop.

“We did Groupon in December 2009 and at first we thought it was great. We were super busy and people loved it,” she states. “We decided to give Groupon another try over the summer. We figured this time people would have to spend something on top of the Groupon, but much to my amazement (and dismay) 70 percent of the Groupon checks were for less than $40.”

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Groupon may have contributed, but I suspect this is a bigger factor:

Unfortunately, this shift was not enough to combat the unstable economy and the move away from dining out as a form of entertainment.

That, to me, is the story. I think dining out is going back to how it was 25-30 years ago.

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And at the top of the paper you quote is a special "Patch of the day" for a haircut which is regularly $100 but is discounted to $50. Every coupon I've seen so far has a minimum price before the coupon value is deducted. (and as an aside, if you read the article to the right about the restaurant changing concepts, you might want to factor that into the restaurant failing. They removed things that had been customer favorites to install pizza ovens. So, new concept, new equipment. Seems to me you'd have to build a new clientele before you'd become profitable.)

I have no dog in this hunt (I don't even use them, I don't think I've ever visited one of those coupon sites), but I don't think that two businesses make an "epic, industry wide disaster". It may, however, make an extremely good case for business schools, business plans, demographics studies and common-sense.

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And at the top of the paper you quote is a special "Patch of the day" for a haircut which is regularly $100 but is discounted to $50. Every coupon I've seen so far has a minimum price before the coupon value is deducted. (and as an aside, if you read the article to the right about the restaurant changing concepts, you might want to factor that into the restaurant failing. They removed things that had been customer favorites to install pizza ovens. So, new concept, new equipment. Seems to me you'd have to build a new clientele before you'd become profitable.)

I have no dog in this hunt (I don't even use them, I don't think I've ever visited one of those coupon sites), but I don't think that two businesses make an "epic, industry wide disaster". It may, however, make an extremely good case for business schools, business plans, demographics studies and common-sense.

I do not disagree, but I think the Groupon episode accelerated a teetering restaurant's downward spiral. Somehow they had the impression that the average total check amount would be in excess of the coupon's total. Maybe customer habits changed since their first use of a Groupon offer. Maybe that is how Groupon markets these offers to restaurants. I don't know, but it is hard to understand why a failing restaurant would think it a good idea to sell food at half off.

Some additional views:

Wise for Some Restaurants, Coupons Are a Drain at Others

Scroll down for 11 part series on Groupons

Edited by dcs
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From the comments about that article - this is a restaurant owner:

"Many people are struggling today in our slow economy and it is easy to understand how all these coupons appeal to them. You can't really blame people for wanting a bargain, but when they do buy these coupons with such glee it would be nice to remember what the cost is to the merchant who is providing this bargain they will be enjoying."

What a noble sacrifice he is making in order to part me from my money. :rolleyes:

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But sometimes, it can go horribly, horribly wrong.

She normally makes 100 cupcakes a month?!?

Does that even qualify as a business? And she then set the Groupon at a loss with no upper limit on quantity?

I dunno. Seems like this member of the herd would have been thinned eventually anyway, right?

edit - That part was covered above. I promise to read the whole thread before posting again.

I would think a good business person would have figured out a way to capitalize on a 1000X increase in business (from 100 to 102,000) other than to go to the press and complain about Groupon.

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It may, however, make an extremely good case for business schools, business plans, demographics studies and common-sense.

And class-action-lawsuits.

There will be plenty of time for all those things once Groupon goes public, raises a few $billion, then leaves investors holding the bag as they have no sustainable market differentiation and the $billions disappear.

(Are S&H green stamps still viable anywhere?)

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My thoughts (take them with a grain of salt):

I think it is hard to blame Groupon/Living Social/etc.. for anything. The businesses make the choice to participate. In the case of the cupcake place in England, well, that was just poor planning and a very poor business decision. Solely the fault of the business owner (IMHO).

As for my experience as a business owner, we have done (2) deals. We did a deal with Groupon a year ago and a Living Social that just expired a couple weeks ago. I don't see the need to ever do one again, but I wouldn't necessarily say it was a bad experience. I think it effects every type of business in a different manner, so I can just speak for myself. What we found is that it was about 45% previous customers (which doesn't do us much good, as we are basically giving product away to people that already know about us). Also, it seems like a lot of the people that buy the deals are indeed "deal shoppers" and just hop from one deal to the next with no brand loyalty whatsoever. I am sure we gained some new customers from the deal it is just hard to gauge what percentage. We had about 20% of the deals go unredeemed (at least for the full value, customers can still come in and use their voucher for the amount they paid for it). Also, from a financial standpoint, about 50-60% of the customers spent slightly more than the amount of the voucher, which is obviously good for us. I don't think we took a loss, but we certainly didn't make anything, except hopefully a bunch of new customers.

The inherent problem with deals like these, and this is the exact same problem with restaurant week., is that we are reaching out to a lot of people that are not our core demographic. We got lots of comments on our LS feedback that we are "super-expensive", "way over-priced", "tastes the same as Milky Way or Twix", etc, etc... Are these going to be repeat customers? No. Same goes with Restaurant Week, as I think many Restaurant Week patrons will go for deal at "enter fancy restaurant here" and never plan on returning. Obviously, most folks on this board don't think that way, but you all are (unfortunately) the very small minority.

We don't see the need to ever do a deal like this again, as I think it has served its purpose for us. I recently spoke with a chef-owner friend who said he is anxious to do another deal, as it worked out well for him. I guess it really depends on each individual.

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Let's start a movement: Say NO to the Coupon!

I've got to say: I think this is just crazy talk.* If restaurants don't want to offer coupons, that's just dandy; not having a coupon never has and never will prevent me from eating anywhere. But the idea that the onus is somehow on the customer to deny himself savings just has no logic.

A business is offering a deal that will save me a not insignificant amount of money. I don't see how that's any different than half-price wine night, happy hour, pre-theater menus, or any other discount offered by a business.

*Nothing personal LauraB! :)

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I've got to say: I think this is just crazy talk.* If restaurants don't want to offer coupons, that's just dandy; not having a coupon never has and never will prevent me from eating anywhere. But the idea that the onus is somehow on the customer to deny himself savings just has no logic.

A business is offering a deal that will save me a not insignificant amount of money. I don't see how that's any different than half-price wine night, happy hour, pre-theater menus, or any other discount offered by a business.

*Nothing personal LauraB! :)

I agree. I don't want to be made to feel that I'm somehow damaging a restaurant if I avail myself of a coupon that they CHOSE to offer.

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My experience w/ coupons is similar to the above 2 posters-if they offer it, I take advantage of it. I haven't purchased many, maybe half a dozen, restaurants & beauty services ( & Springfield Butcher). I use them as an excuse to drag my lazy butt across town (seems like everything is across town), covers my gas maybe, & I ALWAYS tip on the pre-discount amount...I really wanted to purchase the basic pistol class, but figured it would spook my family....

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A business is offering a deal that will save me a not insignificant amount of money. I don't see how that's any different than half-price wine night, happy hour, pre-theater menus, or any other discount offered by a business.

i have seen bucks twice and suhi ko once at the height of groupon frenzy and it was not a pretty picture. you definitely are not getting the same level of service -- both places were obviously stretched thin -- and i would expect the food to suffer as well. some restaurants are expert at reducing portion sizes to keep from running out of things on busy nights, and i have seen just how much the size of a hamburger can shrink when the heat is on. you have to weigh the relatively small amound of money you are saving against the potentially big difference the coupons can make in the quality of your dining experience. i have pretty much shunned these coupons when maybe i shouldn't have. i would imagine there are a lot of places you can use them and everything is fine, but i know the peril is out there.

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i have seen bucks twice and suhi ko once at the height of groupon frenzy and it was not a pretty picture. you definitely are not getting the same level of service -- both places were obviously stretched thin -- and i would expect the food to suffer as well. some restaurants are expert at reducing portion sizes to keep from running out of things on busy nights, and i have seen just how much the size of a hamburger can shrink when the heat is on. you have to weigh the relatively small amound of money you are saving against the potentially big difference the coupons can make in the quality of your dining experience. i have pretty much shunned these coupons when maybe i shouldn't have. i would imagine there are a lot of places you can use them and everything is fine, but i know the peril is out there.

Very true on all counts. But I just don't view this thought process as any different than when I'm trying to decide whether I want to go to a certain place for their happy hour deal or on a Friday night or on New Year's Eve--or even on just random day when an office party buys out the bar or closes a place down--which all bring in mobs and which mostly result in lesser service.

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Very true on all counts. But I just don't view this thought process as any different than when I'm trying to decide whether I want to go to a certain place for their happy hour deal or on a Friday night or on New Year's Eve--or even on just random day when an office party buys out the bar or closes a place down--which all bring in mobs and which mostly result in lesser service.

Except that (and now we're getting to the point of this thread) you don't know which places are in the middle of a coupon frenzy until you show up, pay full boat, and get shafted (which I've had happen to me several times). Last night, for example, I went to 100 Degree Chinese Cuisine, and they had a sign on their door saying, 'If you have a Specialicious coupon, please let us know right you when you sit down.' Well, I didn't have one, and didn't need one since I was there at 4:30 and the place was empty, but I'm glad I wasn't there during dinner rush if there was a pending expiration.

As a side issue, too many restaurants are subtracting discounts after tax has already been factored into the full amount.

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Last night, for example, I went to 100 Degree Chinese Cuisine, and they had a sign on their door saying, 'If you have a Specialicious coupon, please let us know right you when you sit down.'

Does this imply that those with a coupon can expect a different level of service (for good or for ill)? Why else would they need to know right up front? Very curious.

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Does this imply that those with a coupon can expect a different level of service (for good or for ill)? Why else would they need to know right up front? Very curious.

I've seen this often, and it could be perfectly innocent (the way they need to enter it into their POS system, for example). That is why I made no implications here, but the potential for this type of thing is obvious.

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Does this imply that those with a coupon can expect a different level of service (for good or for ill)? Why else would they need to know right up front? Very curious.

I recall that coupons from Open Table said they need to be presented up front. I think you can present Groupon or Living Social coupons when the check arrives. I personally don't think they need to know up front. Nevertheless, since we eat very early, we've never had poor service while using a coupon. I also order drinks immediately and then order more food than we can possibly eat in one setting - maybe that helps ensure good service.

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OpenTable checks are a completely different animal - they're deposited just like travelers checks for the restaurant. I've never presented them up front, and never been given a hassle about it.

I think Eric might have been referring to the OpenTable Spotlight coupons rather than the Dining Rewards check.

I'm guessing that the decision to require diners to present the coupon up front or with the check is up to the restaurant rather than the company that issues the coupon. I'm pretty sure I've had a LivingSocial that said to present up front and another one that said to present with the check.

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I was slightly apprehensive about replying to this thread because I work for Savored, a company that commonly gets lumped in to the "discount" sites. I have been a member on Don Rockwell way before I started with Savored, so please don't take this as any kind of self promotion. I just wanted to read what you guys thought before I gave my $0.02.

I look at the daily deal sites from an owners prospective. The restaurant industry is obviously super competitive. Groupon and LivingSocial have done a great job of building an enormous member base. The deals that these sites offer are pretty much just an advertising tool for the restaurant to get their name out there or to try and acquire a new crop of customers. The restaurant owner is probably going to lose money on these deals (even with the coupons that go unused). The owner has the option of using money out of his/her budget doing advertising/marketing on their own, or going this new daily deal route and using their member base. Obviously LS/Groupon can reach more people, so the restaurant owner does a deal.

The problem with doing the deal is that the structure of the deal is flawed based on the way a restaurant runs. As consumers, we are naturally bred to eat around certain times. Typically most people eat lunch between 12-1pm, and they eat dinner between 6:00-8:00pm. Because we like to eat at these times, restaurants will be most crowded at these times. By doing a LS/Groupon deal, the consumer can come and eat at the restaurant at any time and use their coupon. If a restaurant is slammed with a 1 hour wait, but 50% of the place is using their coupon, they are losing out on a customer that is willing to pay full price to eat at that time. The deals are awful in that regard because you now have someone who gets $50 worth of food for $25, and after splitting 50% with LS/Groupon the restaurant takes in $12.50. So not only are you losing money on the table that used the coupon, you are also losing money on not being able to seat a table that will pay full price.

Owners need to realize that they can make money off of these discount sites by offering the discount during a time when the restaurant has empty tables. The consumer will be happy because they are receiving a discount still, and the owner will be happy because they will make incremental revenue and profit instead of looking at table sitting empty.

I could go on but I think you guys get the gist. I'd be happy to answer any questions about Savored, as I didn't explain the concept (don't think this is the right place to do it).

Sklarithy

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So let me see if I understand the process. You buy $50 worth of food for $25. The restaurant has to then split the $25 50/50 with the coupon issuer? Is that correct because that's a business model that's a real winner for the restaurant (as long as they give you $12.50 worth of food and make you think it's a $50 value).

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I'm no businesswoman, but isn't this what's called a "loss leader"?

I'm no businesswoman either but seems to me that if you don't cap that offer at some reasonable point, it'll lead to bankruptcy court (as it seems to have in some of the cited articles). Apparently there's no substitute for commonsense but there's always room for good legal representation. The problem that I see with this is that people with coupons aren't going to spend any more than necessary so that they reap the maximum benefit from their cash outlay. The restaurant, to recoup their losses (nothing is free in this world) have to cut corners somewhere to cover that loss of revenue. Who pays for those coupons? We all do in the long run with increased prices for normal, non-coupon using customers. No business can survive while losing money (obviously). There's no free lunch and if a deal sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

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The problem that I see with this is that people with coupons aren't going to spend any more than necessary so that they reap the maximum benefit from their cash outlay. The restaurant, to recoup their losses (nothing is free in this world) have to cut corners somewhere to cover that loss of revenue. Who pays for those coupons? We all do in the long run with increased prices for normal, non-coupon using customers. No business can survive while losing money (obviously). There's no free lunch and if a deal sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

The first sentence simply isn't true in all cases. I believe Dean shared his personal experiences and stated that a significant portion of the coupon users did a "blow-out" meal at his restaurant. I usually spend at least twice the face amount of these certificates - partly because these certificates aren't priced to cover an entire meal. $60 for dinner doesn't buy 2 apps, 2 entrees, and 2 desserts at any half decent restaurant. The $80 certificate sold by Sushi Taro doesn't even cover half of 2 surf 'n turf kaiseki (priced at $110 per person). Sure there are cheap bastards out there who are trying to reap the maximum benefit but even at 1/4 of face value, a restaurant is probably breaking even. I don't doubt some restaurants cut corners but that's not been my personal experience and I've used the certificates at Bra. Beck, Kushi, Againn, Malaysia Kopitiam, among others. So if a restaurant with a reputation for quality is offering discounts, I'm more than happy to take advantage of them.

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The first sentence simply isn't true in all cases. I believe Dean shared his personal experiences and stated that a significant portion of the coupon users did a "blow-out" meal at his restaurant. I usually spend at least twice the face amount of these certificates - partly because these certificates aren't priced to cover an entire meal. $60 for dinner doesn't buy 2 apps, 2 entrees, and 2 desserts at any half decent recent. The $80 certificate sold by Sushi Taro doesn't even cover half of 2 surf 'n turf kaiseki (priced at $110 per person). Sure there are cheap bastards out there who are trying to reap the maximum benefit but even at 1/4 of face value, a restaurant is probably breaking even. I don't doubt some restaurants cut corners but that's not been my personal experience and I've used the certificates at Bra. Beck, Kushi, Againn, Malaysia Kopitiam, among others. So if a restaurant with a reputation for quality is offering discounts, I'm more than happy to take advantage of them.

it may not be true in all cases, but I'd suspect it's probably most cases. Springfield Butcher's yelp page (http://www.yelp.com/biz/springfield-butcher-springfield) is a great example of this. They noticed that most people came in to spend just the amount that was listed on the groupon, so they put up a sign about it. I definitely think most people that buy coupons are doing it for a bargain, not to stretch their dining dollar.
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it may not be true in all cases, but I'd suspect it's probably most cases. Springfield Butcher's yelp page (http://www.yelp.com/biz/springfield-butcher-springfield) is a great example of this. They noticed that most people came in to spend just the amount that was listed on the groupon, so they put up a sign about it. I definitely think most people that buy coupons are doing it for a bargain, not to stretch their dining dollar.

I suspect different businesses have different experiences. Those business owners that aren't stupid can take advantage of the reach of these certficates and still make money without ruining their reputation.

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The first sentence simply isn't true in all cases. I believe Dean shared his personal experiences and stated that a significant portion of the coupon users did a "blow-out" meal at his restaurant. I usually spend at least twice the face amount of these certificates - partly because these certificates aren't priced to cover an entire meal. $60 for dinner doesn't buy 2 apps, 2 entrees, and 2 desserts at any half decent recent. The $80 certificate sold by Sushi Taro doesn't even cover half of 2 surf 'n turf kaiseki (priced at $110 per person). Sure there are cheap bastards out there who are trying to reap the maximum benefit but even at 1/4 of face value, a restaurant is probably breaking even. I don't doubt some restaurants cut corners but that's not been my personal experience and I've used the certificates at Bra. Beck, Kushi, Againn, Malaysia Kopitiam, among others. So if a restaurant with a reputation for quality is offering discounts, I'm more than happy to take advantage of them.

Everything he said. I splurge more because hey, I'm ahead of the game. I've never noticed any significant difference between my plate and others around me and service it the same, too. There will be diners who are looking to get the best "bargain" or value at any restaurant, coupon or not.

I agree with others who note that towards the end of a coupon offer period, you can find bat shit- crazy crowds and have a really poor experience. This happened once to us, but it was totally my fault to wait until the last day to use a coupon. I should have just let it go because the place was slammed and it was just an all around bad dinner. I've not reported on it because I'm sure it was the circumstances and not representative of the restaurant as a whole.

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Even slightly profitable customers using coupons are a negative sum game for restaurants. Im so overwhelmed with coupon offers by good restaurants that I can rarely justify paying full fare at any but the most exceptional restaurants. In the past year, Ive probably tried a dozen restaurants that I would have been happy to revisit at full price, except I have a bucket load of good deal coupons. This is great for me but its not gaining an otherwise good customer for these restaurants. Its a downward spiral where restaurants end up chasing the same group of good customers at a far lower profit margin, or risk losing customers to other restaurants altogether. Maybe the coupons have a role in promoting awareness of a new business, but established businesses are doing so at their peril.

Plus, based on the appalling Yelp comments (though Springfield Butcher should have set the terms in their coupon and not shaming people after they bought it), it seems like a large proportion of coupon people are customers that no business should want. They want top of the line service at rock bottom prices, have no loyalty to any business, and are extremely quick to take offense.

I think restaurants would be better off going back to renting email lists and doing weekday/happy hour specials. At least that would be building customer loyalty to their brand.

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I think restaurants would be better off going back to renting email lists and doing weekday/happy hour specials. At least that would be building customer loyalty to their brand.

****

You know, you're right. I think I'm a "good customer" when I try some place with a coupon, but we are more loyal to say, Le Bergerie, who run Mon. night specials and other places to do the like.

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We're running another deal with Bloomspot tomorrow for the Light Horse. Bloomspot will negotiate a much better split with the merchant and they guarantee an "overspend" amount that their users must fulfill (on average) or they will give 100% of the purchased dollars to the merchant.

We ran a deal with them a couple months ago and it was great. All of the bloomspot users spent more than their discounted coupon was worth and I'd say at least 95% of them were visiting us for the first time. We've since seen many of them return frequently and have even gotten a few new regulars from it.

The Light Horse was really known as a local bar/hangout for the second floor, but with these offers, we've been exposing our dining room to people who would have never thought to have a nice meal here. The exposure has been really good for us and I most definitely put a limit on the number that can be sold.

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Anyone know what happens if a restaurant goes out of business. I bought a Yum Burger coupon from Capital Deals back in November, went to use it tonight and found they were out of business. I just sent Capital Deals an email, but noticed on their website that they claim they are not responsible for not being able to use due to a restaurant going out of business.

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Anyone know what happens if a restaurant goes out of business. I bought a Yum Burger coupon from Capital Deals back in November, went to use it tonight and found they were out of business. I just sent Capital Deals an email, but noticed on their website that they claim they are not responsible for not being able to use due to a restaurant going out of business.

I had a Groupon that was refunded. But if Capital Deals say they're not responsible, then I don't know if you have any recourse.

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