HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


I feel bad using coupons at restaurants

I get coupons in the mail and via email for a ton of restaurants (I am in the DC area) and I just can't bring myself to use it. Does the restaurant look at you differently if you tell them you have a coupon right when you sit down? Does anyone else feel cheap?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I don't. I usually get the "Entertainment Book" full of coupons each year and use as many coupons as I can. My thinking is that they wouldn't get my business at all if I didn't use the coupon, so why not use it and support a local restaurant rather than a chain?

    1. I have mixed emotions concerning restaurant coupons, especially if it's already a great deal (such as the Mexican restaurants we frequent) and/or are places where we are regulars.

      Restaurant.com recently had a great deal and our daughter bought a few certificates for us for one of our regular places and we've decided to give them to someone else to use.

      We are often comped for items and treated extra special at our regular haunts and I'd feel cheezy or tacky using a coupon as those places.

      1. Two of my richest friends swear by coupons, without hesitation. Just do it. But do it when you sit down, and confirm in advance that the coupons will be honored. You are not picking anyone's pocket. The restaurant has made a business decision to increase traffic, and you are evidence to them that it is working.

        1. I don't feel cheap at all!! After all, the restaurant gave permission to issue the coupon in the first place so, they are expecting you to use it (as long as it's used per the terms printed on the coupon). Even if a server questioned the coupon, the manager should be aware of all active promotions and not treat you any differently. If a place treated me differently, Id start going somewhere else! (Assuming you do your part and tip your server on the non-discounted value of the meal.)

          Though, I agree with Janet from Richmond (hey - that's my hometown!). If it was a place where I was regularly given preferential treatment, Id give the coupon to a friend so they could enjoy the experience, too.

          1. I am more likely to use the coupon if it's a big chain instead of a small place. But I will use the coupon for a small place for the first time I go there. Sometimes that's what gets me thru the door the first time, that coupon.

            1. I think there are two sides to the "I feel bad" issue on using restaurant coupons.

              One, is that you feel somewhat embarrased and consider it a bit cheesy.

              The other, as expressed by Janet from Richmond, is that you feel that the coupon somehow is a disservice to the restaurant -- sort of like depriving the owner of expected profits.

              If it's the first, then that's just a personal choice. We each have own social values and prisms in which we view life actions. Just be guided by what you think is cool.

              If it's the latter, then I think the concern is unfounded. As stated by Veggo, the owner has made a deliberate decision to offer the discount. Having made that decision, there should be no qualms about accepting that offer as it relates to the owner's feelings or well-being.

              3 Replies
              1. re: ipsedixit

                They would also want to know that the coupon got you to the restaurant, that way they can decide if the marketing is paying off.

                1. re: saeyedoc

                  Don't you wish your patients felt this way about using their vision or eye medical insurance? I wish mine did

                  1. re: scubadoo97

                    I don't see medical insurance in the same ball park as restaurant coupens. Not even close. BTW, my Dh does pay more to have a concierge doctor if that makes you feel better, but when my employer pays $600+/month for our medical insurance I have zero qualms using it.

                    But then again, I can't believe I am even trying to debate such a point.

              2. I have the same feelings but with the current state of the economy, I think everyone is more accepting of coupons and discounts. A lot of restaurants in my area (Boston) offer discounts on restaurant.com or on online group coupons like (Groupon or Buy With Me). I'd have to admit that I frequently use these coupons and the uneasiness wears off.

                1. I wonder if I can make a zillion dollars by having ppl like you pay me the amount you think you should pay. I can in turn, pay the restaurant, and use the coupon they gave you.
                  So, when the bill comes, you can just pay me, and then leave, and I'll take care of the bill for you. Sure, there's some logistics to hash out, but in the end, you can still pay what you want to pay without feeling cheap. I could even pretend to work there for you so you wouldn't know the difference. It would just be like a server picking up the little leather booklet like always.

                  1. A much discussed topic in an earlier thread:


                    Personally, I wouldn't analyze it too much. If you feel embarrased by it, don't do it. If you have no issues with it (like me), then do it.

                    I'm not too concerned about what a restaurant (or any retail) staff thinks of me. Any thing I purchase adds to their coffer.

                    1. I wouldn't avoid using them. Places send these out to drum up business alot of times no? So if you frequent the business to use said coupon, you are doing something good. It gets people in the door who might turn into repeat customers.

                      I admit i feel a little weird about it though, maybe just because it's so rare that I use one. Went out with my Mom at a chain a while back with a coupon from a previous visit given as they were out of an advertised item. We used the coupon, and oddly enough got another one, as my mother's meal was not so great and a bit burnt (she didn't eat any besides a pick of veg). Not only did they take it off the bill, they gave her another coupon, which I thought was nice, and counter-acted the effect to some degree, that the bad meal would have maybe had. I thought it was a stand-up thing to do.

                      Consequently, in the above experience, as I would have, even if the meal was not taken off / coupon given....I still tipped on what the total would have been without the coupon (and the meal off the bill as well in the above experience).

                      Why would you have to tell the restaurant that you have a coupon just as you sit down though? Not clear on that one.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: im_nomad

                        To confirm that they will honor it. Many disputes have been fleshed out here, over fine print, expiration, or weaseldom, at the end of the meal, when the customer has little say-so. Why not clarify things at the get-go?

                        1. re: Veggo

                          Weaseldom and Sleazledee may make you wished you hadn't printed up those counterfeit coupons! I've had one say, "we aren't honoring those any more", when everything was legit.
                          I wonder who gives out coupons? Seems to me they are bad, to run of the mill places, where I wouldn't want a cheap meal in the first place. And then there's the chains...

                          1. re: Scargod

                            I'm genuinely laughing for your couplet of Sleazledee. At the moment I can barely type.

                            1. re: Veggo

                              I thought you could barely type anyway!

                        2. re: im_nomad

                          I agree with those who suggest checking with your server right up front confirming whether the coupon will be honored. True, you run the risk of having the server give you the attitude (they think, because it often happens, that their gratuity will be based on the final cost of the meal, not what it would have been without the coupon), but you also avoid the scene at check-presentation time, when the manager gets called over to tell you that, no, we don't honor this or that.

                          im_nomad was nice to patronize that chain a second time, but getting a second coupon would probably be a deal-breaker for me. The "sometthing off your next visit" coupon doesn't really do it for me ... if I make the effort to complain, I want them to make THIS visit better!

                        3. Don't feel bad about using it.

                          The issuer spent $ on a promotion to get you into that establishment.

                          However please read the whole thing. Expect to pay the taxes (when it is applicable) and tip on the full value of the bill.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Brandon Nelson

                            "tip on the full value of the bill."

                            Yes, this point can't be emphasized enough.

                          2. I distinguish between the low impact coupons ($20 off $75, for example), where the effect is to cover a drink or tax and tip, more or less, vs the "biggies" where the price is cut way back (buy one get one free entree type). The latter tend to indicate either a new untried place or a place that is going to close before the Entertainment Book expires.

                            1. The restaurant wants you to use the coupon, or it never would have issued it.

                              But please tip on the full amount. And for God's sake, if they charge you tax on the pre-coupon price, just pay it and shut the f**k up.


                              3 Replies
                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                Alan... thanks for the link. I just skimmed through that thread and Mr. Cheflambo came into the room to see why I was laughing. It never ceases to amaze me how small an amount of $ it takes to get some Canadian fired up.

                                1. re: Cheflambo

                                  Reminds me of my early college days, which coincided with the advent of the billfold made of nylon and velcro. My Scots roomate referred to it as "the Scotsman's purse" because "it screams when it's opened."

                                  At least Scots tend to be laconic.

                                2. re: alanbarnes

                                  Hey, it's my flippin' $1.30 or was it $1.80???

                                3. I feel cheap. I don't use coupons.
                                  Having said that, I don't look down on anyone else that uses them -and when I had several kids to feed on a night out- I used them with no problem. I don't feel sorry for the restaurant at all, at least their marketing strategy worked! I would hope that the restaurant would see you as a potential new returning customer and treat you well.
                                  I would never argue over a few bucks either.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. I don't feel bad about using coupons - as other posters have pointed out, it's the restaurant's own decision to use that mode of marketing to draw customers in and hopefully get them to order more and return for future visits. Maybe this will help - think of it as the restaurant's statement of pride and confidence in its product - try our food/service and we are so confident you'll enjoy it and return that we're willing to give you this free (or discounted) sample.

                                    I don't feel cheap for agreeing to an above the board discount offer extended by the business. I would feel cheap if I angled for a comp or tried to guilt the resto into giving me something extra (hey, my salad only had three croutons on it so I want $2 off!), but using a coupon is not the same thing.

                                    I wouldn't worry about what the server thinks of you using a coupon. I figure that if I am pleasant, have an open mind and tip well (as deserved) and a server thinks less of me for using a coupon, that's his/her issue, not mine. How much I pay for my meal is based on a deal struck between the restaurant and me, not the server. The server can like/dislike the prices/deals the resto extends to the customer all he/she wants, but ultimately it's not the server's call.

                                    1. One thing I should add about coupons ... is that many times a restauarnt will adjust their prices to reflect the coupons that they have issued.

                                      In other words, if the original price of the sandwich was $5 without coupons, once the restaurant prints and distributes the coupon (say for $1 off all sandwiches), the restaurant will increase the sandwich price to $5.50 or $5.75.

                                      Thus, in many ways, if you are not using the coupon you are essentially providing the restaurant an *extra* profit.

                                      Just more food for thought about coupons ...

                                      8 Replies
                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        I've never seen a resto reprint their menu for a coupon.

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          I've never seen plate tectonics in action, but I will never doubt that there are earthquakes.

                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                            But HAVE YOU seen one change their prices to compensate for coupons?

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              I *know* of places that have done it.

                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                Would you be willing to name names? I (and others) live in CA and would like to be on the alert. Thanks.

                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                  You should pass any concrete knowledge on to the local weights and measures department. They frown on such actions.

                                                  1. re: Brandon Nelson


                                                    What, or how, would the Weights & Measures Dept. have jurisdiction over such an issue?

                                                    I would think the more likely enforcement agency -- if there is even an issue to enforce -- would be the FTC, or maybe the Better Business Bureau. That said, I still don't see anything "deceptive" about this ... Coupon says what it says, and it's honored, increased prices are posted as clear as day ... [shrug].

                                              2. re: ipsedixit

                                                I think MANY have seen tectonic plates in action, or at least the effects of them in action.
                                                Anyway, I think your analogy is on loose footing. Were's the beef?

                                          2. It's pretty obvious that places that regularly give discount coupons have to adjust their prices accordingly. Why would you feel cheap?

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: hsk

                                              Do you have any examples of this?

                                              1. re: KTinNYC

                                                Well, only to the extent that places that regularly give discount coupons seem to be more expensive in their menu prices compared to similar places that don't. Just an observation, and only to say I wouldn't feel cheap using a coupon if I had one. Although I don't get a ton of coupons via mail and email, maybe I'm missing out.

                                              2. re: hsk

                                                I agree. Otherwise, how would they stay in business if they regularly discounted their food and didn't make up for it one way or another?
                                                There are mediocre restaurants all around us (where I will not go). They often have bars and the food is often generic "bar food". They continually offer discount coupons. Don't you think their prices cover the coupons so they meet a certain profit margin? It's not like their prices fluctuate like a roller coaster with every new coupon; they just charge a certain percentage more than they might otherwise charge.
                                                If you don't use coupons at these places it is you that are paying too much. If you drink their cheap bar drinks you pay even more.

                                              3. The coupons are for you to try a restaurant. Think of it that way. Janet in Richmond has a point about places you frequent, and where you have been treated exceedingly well. But for a new place, that is what the coupon is for, imho. Even if you have been to the place once or twice, consider the coupon an incentive to try it one more time.

                                                1. Sometimes when jfood has to eat solo in a restaurant he really likes the restaurant.com coupons that force him to order two entrees to meet the coupon criteria. That way he gets tp try two dishes for the price of one.

                                                  6 Replies
                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                    I'd like to know if any places in New Canaan offer coupons. My experience from a while back and my impression now is that those restaurants who do offer coupons generally have mediocre to poor food. I don't think there are cheap and cheesy restaurants in New Canaan or Darien. No places with drive-thrus...
                                                    Name a few that you have eaten at and used coupons.

                                                    1. re: Scargod

                                                      1 - Aloi participates in Restaurants.com. Have two $25 coupons on the desk. She has the best Bolognese in FFD County. This is a true exception to the rule of coupons = bad food. This place is outstanding.
                                                      2 - Roccos now has coupons. Jfood ate there once, not so quick to go back.
                                                      3 - In Darien Melting Pot (cheesy and mediocre) also participates in R.com, but jfood has not been there. And jfood does not think there are any restaurants in Darien that are worth the 20 minute drive.

                                                      What's a drive thru? :-))

                                                    2. re: jfood

                                                      "restaurant.com coupons that force him to order two entrees to meet the coupon criteria"

                                                      I didn't realize you could be a single diner and use the coupons. I thought it was minimum party of 2.

                                                      1. re: dump123456789

                                                        If two dinners are being ordered, I don't see how it would matter to the restaurant. Each restaurant has its own requirements though; they tend to be clearly spelled out on the coupon itself.

                                                        1. re: dagwood

                                                          One person is more likely to barely meet the minimum purchase requirement, whereas 2 people are more likely to significantly overshoot it, which the restaurant would prefer.

                                                          I just checked mine, and they do specify 2 guests, so now I'm really surprised that jfood can use them by himself.

                                                          1. re: dump123456789

                                                            "jfood can use them by himself"..."has used" should replace "can use".

                                                            Yes they state 2 guests, but just call and ask. some do and some don't. It's all in the delivery and the request.

                                                    3. The restaurant bought the coupons to attract business. They WANT you there, and you should not feel cheap at all. Let the server know you have a coupon, but always tip on the total bill as it was before your discount.

                                                      7 Replies
                                                          1. re: jfood

                                                            glad we got that sorted out, brother. Peace

                                                              1. re: jfood

                                                                SMOOCH to you. Now give up the REAL secret to your shortrib recipe, you wiley devil!

                                                                1. re: southern_expat

                                                                  Totally transparent on the thread. Jfood is not a "keep out one ingredient" recipe poster. Flavor all depends on the wine you use. jfood served last weekend to some friends.

                                                          2. re: southernexpat

                                                            I used to think the same way -- the restaurant wants my business and this is how they promote themselves, so I'll buy lots of coupons for my favorite restaurants. But I recently learned that the restaurants that participate in Restaurant.com receive NO compensation for the value of the coupon. That means that if I pay $3 for a $25 dining coupon (70% off the usual $10), the restaurant actually comps the $25. So now I've shifted my thinking about those coupons. I'll use them in restaurants I haven't tried before, or I'll give them to friends who haven't been to those restaurants, but I won't buy a bunch of them for my own use.