Restaurant coupons: good deals or duds?

Restaurant discount coupons are all the rage. But are they good value? If you’re a subscriber to deal websites such as LivingSocial, Scoopon, or Jump On It, emails land in your inbox daily offering huge discounts on various goods and services and there is only a 24-hour window to snap them up. Facials, hair cuts and holidays all put in an appearance, but when you’re a foodie it’s the restaurant deals that catch your eye.

There’s always a tempting line-up: an Indian banquet for half the going rate or a seafood platter for two, plus desserts, plus wine at a discount of 65 percent.

More often than not the deal is for a restaurant I haven’t heard of, or the venue is located in a suburb far from where I live, or it’s for a cuisine that I’m just not into. But occasionally somewhere recognisable crops up – a restaurant I’d like to try. It might be walking distance from my home and the thought of redeeming the voucher on a work night when I’m too tired to cook is difficult to pass up.

Three deals 

My partner and I have bought three vouchers in the past few months. One is for an ethnic restaurant that I’ve wanted to dine at for some time. We actually made a booking some weeks earlier but reluctantly cancelled when we were too tired to go. I’m intrigued by the menu, which offers an insight into a cuisine I haven’t previously tried. The deal is $110 worth of food and drink from the menu for $39 for two. Considering we planned to go and pay full price, I feel like I’ve got a good deal.

The second voucher is for a wine bar in our neighbourhood where we can choose six tapas plates from the menu, plus a bottle of wine (or two beers) for $39 – saving 58 percent. We’ve eaten there previously and enjoyed the food and atmosphere in the small, cosy venue. On a cold night when we can’t be bothered to cook it will be an easy dinner and just a short stroll there and back.

The last voucher is more questionable. It’s for an Italian restaurant in our suburb – supposedly Sydney’s Little Italy, but lacking a good reputation as such in recent years. My partner emailed me the offer from his work and asked what I thought. For $49 we could choose $149 worth of food and drinks from the menu – a discount of 65 percent. “Check the menu,” he said, sending me the link. I did and frankly wasn’t that impressed. I said as much in my return email. “Too late,” he replied. “I’ve bought it.”

Good deal or dud?

When we reconvened at home that evening he said that for $49 he figured it was a good deal. “But is it good deal if the menu doesn’t really appeal in the first place?” I asked. In short, is it a bargain if we spend money on something we normally wouldn’t buy? It’s a bit like when you buy things in the retail sales that you never use or wear.

Do the vouchers we’ve bought represent good value? I can’t say for certain. We haven’t redeemed them yet. They’re sitting on a shelf waiting for a night when we can’t be bothered to cook, but can be bothered to go out.

Maybe the Italian restaurant with the unimpressive menu will come up trumps. On the other hand, the other two deals could turn out to be duds. And at the back of my mind is the saying “you get what you pay for”.

Past the use-by date

First though, we’ve got to actually use them. I’ve been told that one-third of these coupons aren’t redeemed by the use-by date. Maybe customers forget about them or they’re received as un-wanted gifts. When that happens, the coupon company keeps the full amount that the customer paid for the coupon. The participating restaurant doesn’t receive anything.

If a voucher is redeemed, the participating restaurant receives about half of the amount the customer paid. So if they offer a deal for $39 – which is perhaps already half the true cost – they receive just $20 or so from the coupon company.

The deals are mostly loss-makers for restaurants – they just hope they’ll impress you enough so that you come back again and pay full price. Or trade up when you come in for your special deal – ordering wine or desserts or coffee that are not included in the offer. Given that many customers just chase coupons and never plan to pay full price, success on that front is debatable.

So are restaurant vouchers good value? As far as coupon companies are concerned, yes.

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Filed under Reflections

9 responses to “Restaurant coupons: good deals or duds?

  1. wayne heeley

    hi rachel,
    you’ll have to follow up on this and let us know what the restaurants are like when you get round to trying them.
    i know a couple of friends who swear by these type of coupon deals but i’ve always been sceptical of them so haven’t tried any of them.


  2. Mel Marshan

    Hi Rach,

    One of my friends got a voucher for a special 4 course menu at Red Lantern, including Mark’s new cookbook.. they thought it was a great deal and the food was excellent. I struggle with these deals as some of them have set food with the price, and with the shellfish allergy makes it a bit limiting. Aaron just bought a car wash voucher today! In America they are huge, but yes most restaurants agree it ruins them rather than makes them.


    • Hi Mel,
      Yes, i saw the Red Lantern deal – it sounded amazing. But i think it was for a lunchtime (not good for me with work) and i already had Mark’s book – The Urban Cook – so it didn’t work out for me.
      But i’ve never had a bad meal at the Red Lantern – i’m sure those who bought the vouchers had a great deal.


  3. I went to Bombay Bites (an indian restaurant in Neutral Bay) last night, a place I probably wouldn’t have known about if it wasn’t for the voucher. The staff went out of their way to be helpful, and the food was amazing! I think if you choose carefully and be sure to read the T&Cs & the restaurant website before purchasing, consumers can do very well out of these deals. And if they like the place, they’re more likely to return!


    • Hi Daniella,
      Yes, i think the trick is to choose carefully. And you’re right – read the terms and conditions. You don’t want to turn on up and Friday night with a voucher to be told vouchers can’t be redeemed on Friday/Saturday!!
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Good luck with the next voucher.


  4. I am similarly dubious of these deals. I’m a sucker for a bargain and have tried a fair few now – always promising, nearly always end up disappointed. The times that we’ve gone to reputable restaurants – they’ve been fine, the ones I’ve never heard of have been atrocious – the value and savings always sound so impressive but in reality, I’d probably start a riot if I had to pay their rrp for the meals I’d been served. I liken this to the digital age of the Ent Book, the good places just don’t seem to need to feature in them. The Thai massage deals offered on the other hand are awesome – haven’t found a fault there yet.


  5. You really have a point here. A lot of restaurant deals are all the rage. But I can assure you that there are some daily deal sites that can give you good quality coupons that will surely satisfy your taste and will turn out to buy another deal. ——


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