Years ago, when I was in debt by more than $200,000 from student loans, I used pinch every single penny. Whether it was only buying things that we’re buy one get one free or walking to places that we’re more than two miles away instead of using my car, I was frugal to the bone. As such, anytime my wife and I wanted to eat out, I would only go to a restaurant that allowed for Restaurant.com coupons.
Even more frugal (or cheap, depending on how you look at it), I would only buy Restaurant.com gift certificates when they were on a big sale. The best deal they have seems to be the $25 gift certificate to a restaurant for $2 and once in a blue moon, I would use them. This was in 2007 & 2008 and I probably saved a few hundred dollars over the course of those years.
Fast forward to 2012 and it’s become impossible to use Restaurant.com any more. I live in the very populated city of Miami and when I search for restaurants within 10 miles, I usually have a few hundred results. As such, when a good sale is being offered, I buy a handful of certificates to places I’m not familiar with but would like to try out. The Restaurant.com gift certificates have no expiration date (in theory) so I tuck them away and once in a while, pull them out to use on a Monday night, like tonight.
But, for the fourth time in a row, my gift certificate was not accepted. Not because it was expired, or because the restaurant did not acknowledge that I was the rightful owner of it, rather because the restaurant simply stopped working with Restaurant.com. This time, I was told “we simply don’t make money off of these gift certificates” and so I canceled my pick-up order. Twice during this experience, I learned the hard way AFTER the check came (once I asked before we ordered). I’ve officially quit Restaurant.com.
Granted, I’m being too bitter over $8 spent but it’s irritating when you plan to use these and are told they’re no good. Imagine going to the grocery store and having the teller deny your ability to use cash. It’s frustrating, and at the same time, disappointing. If you’ll indulge me for a moment …
The blame here is two fold. First, the blame is on Restaurant.com. In addition to having restaurants not allow me to redeem my gift certificates, some of the certificates I have are from restaurants that have closed years ago. I assure you, I bought them AFTER the restaurant shut down meaning I was duped! I suppose I could have put some time in before I bought these certificates to make sure that these places exist but to sell gift certificates to closed eateries is irresponsible. A few suggestions to Restaurant.com:
- Keep better track of when restaurants shut down so that customers like me don’t spend money on useless pieces of paper. I appreciate you have a refund system in place when this happens but it happens far too often.
- When a restaurant is closed, alert all previous owners of the certificate so they can be refunded or switched out. I’ve been a customer for six years now and never received such an email.
- Limit the number of certificates a consumer can buy to a restaurant to just ONE. If I loved a place and could get a $25 discount everytime I went there … that place would not be happy to see me!
- Do a better job of explaining the benefits of the Restaurant.com program to potential businesses. It’s clear that businesses don’t understand how to utilize your gift certificates and think that people saving $25 on one visit are not worth the future potential.
The second part of the blame goes to the restaurants that continue to end their operations with Restaurant.com. It’s backhanded to say you’re not going to accept gift certificates any more yet continue to keep yourself listed with the website. If you want to terminate the partnership, that’s fine, but you should honor any certificate that was already purchased and simply cease selling future ones.
Also, restaurants having delusions that these gift certificates would make them money in the short term probably won’t be in business long. The idea behind Restaurant.com is not that you can drive business quickly, rather that first time customers will become long time customers because of the high quality of food you serve. The goal of Restaurant.com is to get new customers in the door. The goal of your establishment is to keep them coming back.
Use Restaurant.com Better Than I
If Restaurant.com can make their platform a bit more user friendly, I still feel there’s a good amount of use for the consumer. Just make sure you’re a little more diligent than I and perform a few checks before purchasing a Restaurant.com gift certificate:
- Call the restaurant you’re interested in buying a gift certificate to and make sure they still accept them (and that they’re still in business!)
- Make sure there are no restrictions to the use of your gift certificate. Many of the ones I purchased has purchase minimums and could not be used for anything other than dinner. Double checking is always a good idea.
- Remember to present the gift certificate before you order so there are no surprises. I once decided to wait to present the server with a gift certificate, only to learn it was not going to be accepted. Unfortunately, I had a $50 gift certificate during this experience and my $110 bill was paid in full. 🙁
And so, for the fourth time this year, I will be requesting a $2 refund from Restaurant.com. Perhaps I should write a tutorial on how to do that …