Why restaurant discount deals are duds


Restaurant discounts are often a dud, rather than a good deal

Restaurant discount deals are a dime a dozen. But do diners get a good deal, or a dud? The Food Sage takes a look at the ‘special’ treatment that discount diners receive. 

Wine dregs

Discount diners get the dregs. If a special deal comes with a complimentary glass of wine you can bet your Le Creusset stockpot that it’ll be the remnants of a bottle that was opened to serve wine by the glass several nights ago; dregs that were en route to the kitchen to deglaze a sticky pan or fuel a flambé before you came along. It may be perfectly  quaffable, but the ethics behind the practice are questionable.

Smaller portions

There’s no better way to bring out a chef’s inner scrooge than to take them an order from a discount scoffer. They’ll scrimp on the chips, downsize the protein, and pare back the slice of cake until it’s only a bite more than a kid-sized portion. You may find yourself having to order more, to get your fill. (See Now the up-sell)

Speed dining

Nobody likes a hanger-on, especially a cheapskate one, at that. The discount dining etiquette is to get in and get out quickly, so the restaurant can turn over enough tables to make some money from this otherwise dead-loss of a deal. The wait staff will whisk away your plate and serve your next course while you’re still masticating on that last mouthful and the bill will be dutifully delivered without the usual half-hour delay. You’ll be out the door before you’ve even had time to request a toothpick.

Now the up-sell

You may think you’ve scored a canny deal, but the floor staff are far cannier than you. They’ve been trained in the fine art of up-selling, which discount deals depend on to be profitable. They’ll use their guile, gumption and good looks to persuade you to buy an extra side dish, a second glass of wine, or an over-priced dessert. You might easily be swayed if your meal-deal portion was small, which will ratchet up your bill to a more chef-friendly real-meal size.

More, please

Expect the Oliver Twist treatment if you ask for more. Request more bread, more butter, more sauce and the Maitre ‘D won’t quite aim a blow at your head with a ladle, but you’ll probably be made to like a scandalous, cheap-skate scoundrel, which of course you are.

Waste not, want not 

Got withering veggies, dairy products on the turn, and meat past its best in your fridge? Then you can bet your bottom dollar chefs do to. And they’re likely to offload this less-than-fresh stash on unsuspecting diners at discount deal time.


Of course not all restaurant discount deals are duds. There are good buys, and bad. A deal might offer a foot in the door of an up-market restaurant that you couldn’t otherwise afford. In this age of super-sized meals, you may be happy to pay less, to eat less, and a speed-dining scenario may suit your social or work-day needs.

But as the old adage goes ‘you get what you pay for’. So don’t be surprised if your discount deal turns out to be a disappointing, bite-sized, cheapskate meal.

What’s your experience of discount deals?



Filed under Food Issues

22 responses to “Why restaurant discount deals are duds

  1. I buy quite a few of the restaurant meal deals & I have to say that I’ve only had one dud (most that the restaurant had no atmosphere rather than lack of food, or quality of food). I’ve never left hungry or felt “jipped”. It helps to go for restaurants that you’ve actually heard of.


    • My policy has always been to participate in discount offers at restaurants i’m familiar with, or have been wanting to go to. I’ve still had good and bad experiences. But beyond the discount voucher phenomenon, special deals are becoming part and parcel of eating out these days. Take the plethora of quick-fix lunch deals and early dinner specials that are on offer this winter as restaurants try to pick up some extra bums on seats. Many of them are now offered all year round, rather than just seasonal down-times. Are all these chefs adhering to kitchen best practice? I doubt it … and many customers would be none the wiser if the chef had cut corners and were dishing up leftovers that were otherwise destined for the dust bin.


  2. My friends and I recently had a terrible experience with an online coupon deal. The service was terrible and the staff were rude, the portions were stingy and everything came out at once! I should also add that we ordered more drinks and appetisers on top of the deal! Lesson learnt…


    • I think we’ve all been there, Anna. I know i have. Admittedly i’ve had some good deals, too. But are they necessarily good deals when you think about what may have gone on behind the scenes?


  3. Eha

    Thank the blessed Lord I have not been in quite the position to make use of such ‘coupon’ deals! Kind’of believed about what you have written all along! Logical, isn’t it ? Hope people realize there are no such things as a ‘free lunch’ !!!!!!


  4. alex

    To provide a bad experience defeats the purpose of the discount vouchers in the first place – to impress first timers and create new regulars. I have never had a bad experience, on the contrary after one breakfast voucher of twenty dollars we were so impressed we planned a function at the venue, to the tune of three thousand dollars. If the restaurant is inclined to skimp on food and service, there was no point selling the discount in the first place


    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Alex. I’ve had both good and bad experiences … and tend to only participate in discount offers at restaurants i’m familiar with or are on my “to eat” list. However, the point of the article is to explain a little of what goes on behind the scenes. Even if we think a deal is good, or “value for money”, who knows what the chef is up to in the kitchen to make the numbers stack up … and many diners would be hard pushed to tell if produce used was past its best, or wine had been open for days, etc. Not all deals are quite as good as they seem.


  5. I’ve tried a few actually and gave up on them a while ago for all the reasons you have outlined above. I went to a hatted restaurant for a birthday with one of these deals – Big mistake! Portions were microscopic, service was horrible and abrupt, the deal didn’t reflect what we received and the worst part was that we ended up with awful food poisoning. Happy Birthday! 😦
    I complained though and we were refunded by the deal site.


    • I’ve recently bought a couple of coupons, after a long hiatus due to disappointing experiences. I’ll see how they go. But there are numerous deals on offer these days – not just through the coupon sites. More and more restaurants are offering special menus for quick fix lunches, etc. They’re rampant. I just hope best kitchen practice is, too. Though i’m not hopeful.


  6. eatdrinkandbekerry

    I expect everything you’ve mentioned is true but I’m not sure it is the rule. I’ve recently spoken with a couple of well known restaurant owners about why they would offer meal discounts and they tell me it works for them if they make offers that can fill their restaurant in off peak times – like early week lunches or dinners. They regard the coupons as useful tools to boost their trade in these time slots and a significant part of their business.


    • Lovely to hear from you Kerry. I have not doubt that makes business sense to offer discounts and fill restaurants at quieter times. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that customers get a good deal. Would most diners know if a bottle of wine – destined for cooking – was used for their complimentary glass of wine? Or if produce past its best was used? Probably not.
      It may backfire on a restaurant if they offer shoddy service or poor quality meals, customers won’t return. But many customers just move on from one discount deal to another with no intention of returning.
      I know there are good deals to be had. Many chefs have integrity and would never cut corners. But unfortunately, they’re not the rule, either.


      • eatdrinkandbekerry

        Perhaps the trick is to take advantage of special offers from your favourite restaurants where you know they won’t cut corners and look for deals that don’t include wine 🙂


  7. I eat out so rarely and I must admit I haven’t ever tried any of the deals offered. They pretty much come into my in box and are deleted just as quickly! You make some good points and I’m sure you’re right, but as you say there are most likely some better restaurants that wouldn’t risk their reputation with such things. I was interested to see what Mel (Miss Piggy) had to say on the subject.


  8. Yes, i think it pays dividends to shop around, and not have too high expectations. Thanks for dropping by, Lizzy.


  9. I never bought restaurant deals but I did beauty deals and for the most part, they were duds 😦


  10. It’s usually a sign of a restaurant who are struggling and I don’t know that this is anything but a short term fix. Are those customers likely to come back? Doubtful. From what I’ve seen they’re occasional or ‘special occasion’ diners only and I think staff unconciously sense that; knowing there’s no point in forming much of a relationship with a one-off diner they maybe don’t try as hard. (yes, it’s wrong but human). I also think the ‘special occasion’ diner can be more trouble than they’re worth.Not eating out often, they might not have as much of an understanding of food and food trends and are often the ones complaining about portion size. I think there’s often a bit of a stigma attached to voucher dining and so people using them are already defensive and primed to take everything personally.
    I’d never use them personally; If you are offering a discounted meal, you do, as you’ve said in your excellent post have to expect that the restaurateur is going to trim the fat somewhere. I don’t think it gives a true representation of a restaurant.


    • Well put, Natascha. I agree that it’s just a short-term fix and wish restaurateurs would look to other ways to win custom, rather than short-selling themselves. But then again, i’ve never ran a restaurant and i don’t know the lengths one would go to to save a business. However, some discount deals often smack of desperation. Especially when you see the same ones advertised again, and again, and again. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  11. I’m very sceptical about group buying deals (for anything, really) and only buy restaurant deals close to the deal closing. That way, if it’s a small restaurant with a ridiculous number of deals sold I know to avoid it.

    The one restaurant deal I have bought was for a small, unknown Indian restaurant near home and the experience was very positive. I think only about 50 deals had been sold.

    I suspect a lot of venues don’t realise quite what they’re getting themselves into and that ends up compromising customer service.


    • I like your tactic! Good approach. I’ve recently bought a voucher deal for a cafe close by, that i’ve had a lovely breakfast at before. I didn’t buy it at the end of the deal’s advertisement, so i don’t know how many other customers took advantage of it. But i’m hopeful that having been there before and enjoyed the experience will mean it’s a good buy.


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