Places to AVOID on restaurant.com
No, the answer is not "every restaurant listed". I am aware that many places on restaurant.com are of questionable quality. That's a given.
However, my question is about places which make using the gift certificates a hassle.
 the GC doesn't mention presenting it before you order, and when you present it at bill time, they make a big stink about it
 you present the GC when you order, then they prevent you from ordering many items which are NOT specials
 they stop accepting the GC's, but keep listing themselves on restaurant.com month after month
 their GCs are always sold out
 you present the GC when you order, then they reduce the size of your dishes
 any other situation where they try to put extra restrictions or conditions on you other than what is stated on the GC
Ones I've come across:
 (not on restaurant.com specifically, but with other coupons) Garden Fresh & Cafe Mazeh in Mountain View
 Nha Toi in San Jose (mentioned on yelp)
 Bui in Berkeley (mentioned a while ago on chowhound)
 Rokko in Sunnyvale, Layang Layang in Cupertino
 Garden Fresh again (required payment in cash)
(I would give an example for , because I read it on yelp recently, but I can't find it right now.)
The purpose of the GC is to get you to try something you normally might not have by offering you an incentive. Bui basically did a bait-and-switch. They got you to try their stuff, but they shafted you on the incentive. (I'm assuming restaurant.com only comped the discounted cost of the GC, not the face value of the discount that Bui should have given.)
I understand the merits of presenting the GC upfront, but restaurants shouldn't use that as a way to play games. If I didn't know a restaurant was downsizing my portions because of the GC, I would think "gee, their portions are really not worth the full price" and then not come back, which would defeat the purpose of their marketing. In fact, all these games they play with trying to minimize the impact of you using the GC also minimize the likelihood of a repeat visit with or without a GC.
I think what the OP is saying is that if you went to Bui, certificate in hand, only to be turned down, but you ate there anyway -- well, in that case, Restaurant.com obviously isn't going to refund you the cost of your meal.
Again, all the more reason to present the certificate up front, and even to double-check beforehand when you're making the reservation.
For what it's worth, I've never had any problems using the certificates.
Yeah! Chinese Cuisine in Redwood Shores forced me to buy $5 more food before they accepted the coupon. I had an older coupon, which allowed for $10 off a $15 purchase, and it was clearly printed on the coupon. I had asked if they accepted the coupon prior to ordering, and she said yes without looking at it. But when I finished the meal, she picked up the coupon, and said "I'm not going to take that, I'd make no money." It was a Sunday, and I didn't think that Restaurant.com customer service would be open, plus I had an appointment to go to, so I actually paid for $5 more food to take out instead of fighting with her (it looked like she wasn't going to budge from her position). Even if the food was good (which it wasn't) I would never go back due to her attitude.
San Mateo Prime told me I was supposed to present the coupon prior to ordering, but said "I'll ring it up for you anyway this time." He was nice about it, so I'd still go back. :)
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My daughter bought a coupon for Chirag (an Indian restaurant on San Pablo in Richmond) since we were visiting friends over that way. On arrival, we presented coupon and the man (very rudely) told us they were no longer doing the coupons. We asked why they were still listed on Restaurant.com.
So, we left and later, when contacted, Restaurant.com refunded $$ but I notice that restaurant is still listed. Now, we'll never go there.
Gift certificates don't expire in the state of California, so the restaurant has to honor them, so long as they're still in business and regardless of their "current" relationship status with restaurant.com. If they don't, in addition to restaurant.com, I would report them to the Better Business Bureau.
Let me just preface this as I work with restaurants on a daily basis, and I will try to make this as unbiased as possible.
I get to talk to a lot of restaurant owners for a living, and the complaints are always the same about Restaurant.com. I am actually surprised it took this long for the restaurant owner backlash.
Restaurant.com's sales pitch is usually "WE WILL GET YOU NEW CUSTOMERS." Any restaurant would love to hear that, especially in this economy. And Restaurant.com accomplishes that desire with these certificates.
Problem is, A LOT of people who purchase the certificates don't just purchase one to try a place out. Especially when there are 70-90% discounts days, as a consumer, you want to buy-in. I really don't blame anyone for doing it since Restaurant.com does not set up limitations, you're taking advantage of the system.
Restaurant owners are expecting customers to spend a lot more than the certificate. Their hope is that you're going to spend $50, not $25, and you'll be bringing a group of people. But with the economy these days, it's not happening. So, owners are now frustrated and throwing in their own restrictions when you get there. However, when they say that they will lose money, it can be the truth.
Restaurant owners are assuming that every certificate bearer is going to the perfect customer (as defined by the owner). A case of "you can't have your cake and eat it too."
And now you have frustrated patrons of Restaurant.com. If Restaurant.com doesn't figure out a way to fix this problem, they'll get burned by restaurant owners (since everybody knows everybody) and purchasers at the same time.
re: Jason Kwong
I have certainly used it to try new places almost exclusively. I have only been to one place though that I feel i have gotten good service after showing the certificate - Helmand Palace. And I will return there even without the certificate.
Junoon almost didn't take it b/c I didn't present at the beginning but did with great annoyance "this once." We even ordered a lot of food.
re: Jason Kwong
I appreciate your comment. But I think it would be kinda hard to measure the true impact of the certificates in terms of generating new customers for any given restaurant.
For example, I recently used a certificate at a resto I had heard of but never had dined at.
I went with 1 pal, and we both had a delightful time. I know that as a result, at least 4 other friends have since gone there for the first time, and also were pleased with the meal. So the numbers grow.
At the same time, I got another certificate for that same resto. And may use it to bring a new person. Or not. Nonetheless, I've generated a lot of good PR for that place.
[ps- Another resto was shlock -- I'm glad I gave it a try with a coupon, but it was quite a greasy meal. And I'd neither go back there again, nor recommend it to anyone.]
re: Jason Kwong
I think it's fair for the restaurant owners to want to do what helps their business, but if they want to set additional stipulations, those need to be spelled out on the certificate itself -- it really isn't fair for the restaurant to add various restrictions and limitations after the fact. After you've already shown up at the restaurant or, worse yet, after you've already eaten and are trying to settle the bill. I think it's totally reasonable for restaurants to say that the certificate can't cover drinks or that it can only apply to certain days of the week -- but again, so long as it's spelled out in the fine print on the certificate.
I think it's silly for a restaurant owner to ASSUME that people are going to spend way more than what the certificate requires them to -- if you don't build those limitations in, why wouldn't people try to get the best deal possible. Personally, I think it's crazy that some of the restaurants offer $25 certificates, where you only need to spend $35 to use them!
But again, I've never had a negative experience with the certificates. Digs Bistro, Jai Yun, Bushi-Tei, O Izakaya--all these places took the certificates without giving me any hassle. And yes, we ended spending a bit more than the bare minimum each time, but we didn't go out of our way to do so. I'd consider dining at any of these again--but for the pricier places among them, the gift certificates definitely make going more reasonable for your average diner.
I've adjusted to some restaurants raising the minimum spend to $50 in order to use the $25 GC. I'm OK with it, just as I'm OK with drinks not being covered, no weekend usage, 20% automatic gratuity etc. In fact, jack up the minimum spend higher, reduce the frequency/number of times that a single user can use the GCs. I'm OK with it, AS LONG AS it's spelled out on the GC.
I'm not OK with restaurants not honoring the terms on the GC, and making up their own conditions when I show up. That's bait-and-switch. I don't care why restaurants do it, because they actually have an honorable out with restaurant.com - they can withdraw from the program. If they do that, I automatically receive an e-mail from restaurant.com saying such-and-such's GC is no longer honored, their GC is deleted from my account, and a blank GC is added to my account that I can convert into another GC, for a restaurant that is still in the program. It's happened 3 times before, and I even went to one of those 3 places without a GC afterwards.
Restaurants which stay in the program, do not update the terms on their GC, and then throw unpleasant surprises at you when you try to use their GCs, are just being dishonorable. And that makes me suspicious of the rest of their operation. Will they substitute pork for veal like Bella Mia did a few years back ? Will there be extra bodily fluids in your dish if you ever complain and ask the kitchen to fix a mistake ?