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Apr 7, 2011 12:52 PM

Do Restaurants Skimp on Food Portions When Using a Coupon?

OK... so my brother and I are arguing this point. He thinks that when a diner uses a coupon, restaurants will skimp on the portions a bit to make up for the money saved. Furthermore, this is why many restaurants require diners to present coupons before they order.

I think that this is ridiculous.

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  1. He's being cynical.

    The point of the coupon is to get you to try their place, leave with a good impression, and come back. Skimping on the product and/or service goes against this.

    1. Silly. Any restaurant that would operate like this wouldn't be long for this world.

      1. Well, not so fast ediblover and ferret. Many years ago I worked in a resto (which is still there, and still owned by the same person) who did a 2-for1 dinner on one of those promotional area-wide cards, which I do consider a coupon. The prime rib dinner was included, but the cooks were instructed to do a thinner cut of meat, by a few ounces. If you ordered off-menu at regular prices, you got the regular cut; if you ordered the "special before 7" you got a slightly smaller cut (although that wasn't specified on the menu) and yet again there was the promotional card and another size. The rest of the entrees were never re-portioned in any case, but for Roast Beef, I saw it with my very own eyes. Prolly the fact that Spiro serves generous portions of good food in the first place is what' s saved him thus far. I admit, I was shocked when I saw the practice.

        1. I think your brother is right. They know the customer isn't going to notice the difference in size or weigh the meat to see that it's a full portion.

          11 Replies
          1. re: mucho gordo

            I don't think any reputable restuarant would offer a coupon to get you to become a new and hopefully a regular customer then skimp on what you ordered. That would be defeating the purpose. If anything they would give you a little more so you would leave with a good impression. They know that you'll tell others about your dining experience there and no restaurant manager or owner wants a new customer bad mouthing their place just to save a few pennies. Personally mamachef, I think the restaurant owner's policies were pretty tacky. I'm sure that's not the rule in most places.

            1. re: The Drama Queen

              I agree wholeheartedly that it was a tacky policy, Drama Queen; but you are wrong about the rest of it. Restaurant meals are portioned according to policy, and as a general rule you get what you get; no more, no less. The Prime Rib was the exception to the rule, and was the only time I've ever seen it. But bear in mind: if a resto is serving lasagna, that's portioned out and heated per service; not individually made and certainly cut ahead of time. To give someone extra would effectively mean chopping into the next controlled portion, which would tamper with the projected food costs. A resto owner who wants your business is more likely to comp you a drink or a dessert than "extra" food. I could be wrong, but with 30 years in the business, I don't think so. And bagelman below provides the other side of the coupon equation.

              1. re: mamachef

                You and I are both right mamachef. Portion control is important. Having owned an ice cream parlor and sandwich shop I fully understand that. However, my family was in the restaurant business and as a "mom and pop" operation they knew they could give just a tad more on most items that weren't portioned out, and they did just that. The coupon holders walked away happy and came back again. Not sure if comping to dessert or a drink would be wise seeing as how the coupon holder is already getting a discount.
                What it boils down to is that as an owner they can do anything they want. It's good to be king.

                1. re: The Drama Queen

                  Totally. The corporate restaurants are so locked into their bottom lines that they can't "afford" the personal touches that make a restaurant. Spiro's was privately-owned, so he could be the King of Smaller Cuts of Prime Rib, which means he also could've been King of Something Special for Return Customers, but the equation didn't follow, unfortunately. My best experiences have been at places where the owner is either the chef or the maitre'd or even just present; and they've always been careful to let us know that our patronage is appreciated, by offering lagniappes or apertifs, or just....something, you know? Your parents had it right. Oh, and re comping PLUS coupon? Again; totally cost-inefficient. I meant that an owner would be more likely to comp an item that has a little more play in the overhead (eg the drink or whatever) than to give a larger entree portion - wasn't even thinking about a coupon being used in that scenario. : )

                2. re: mamachef

                  It seems like cutting off his nose to spite his face. He's not making money off the coupon and probably taking a loss. It's a promo to get people in the door. If I were served a smaller size, I'd think, "It's fine because it's free but I'm not coming back here if their serving sizes are so small." If you're turning away customers, it's a double loss--customers and cost of the dinner.

                  1. re: chowser

                    chowser, that's EXACTLY the idea I was trying to get across. You only have one chance to make a first impression.

                    1. re: chowser

                      Hey, I agree with you. It's not how I'd handle things if I owned my own place, that's for sure. It was sort of his one eccentricity. But, I was replying ONLY to the exact nature of the OP, which was, "is this ever done, or routinely done?" and the answer in this case, unfortunately, is "yes." Which tells me Spiro's not alone - highly unlikely that he's the one person on the face of the earth who ever conceived his diabolical plan and then followed through! : )

                3. re: mucho gordo

                  So you think restaurants are taking the time to cut smaller portions of meat just in case someone is using a coupon? That seems absurd and unlikely.

                  1. re: tommy

                    I know for a fact that they were doing exactly that at this restaurant. The Prime was carved tableside, not in the kitchen, and the carvers had instructions about cut thickness regarding whether or not a coupon or promotion was used.

                    1. re: tommy

                      Unlike mamachef (below), I can't prove anything, tommy. There is no way of telling unless one does a side-by-side comparison (using a scale, if necessary) between a regular priced portion and the discounted one. They're not 'giving' you anything. They lose money by giving you the same size portion for less money. Size of portion is equivalent to the discounted price. It just makes sense to me.

                  2. While do not know, wondered why the coupon was necessary to be presented before the meal, always was afraid the changes were made due to the coupon.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                      Reasons the coupon has to be presented before ordering to protect the restaurant:

                      #1 To make sure the coupon is valid on the day of week (and time of day)
                      #2 To make sure the coupo n has not expired
                      #3 To make sue the coupon is used correctly (One per table, or one per couple)
                      #4 So the check can be correctly tendered (20% gratuity added before coupon discount)
                      #5 So the restaurant is not handed a coupon that is invalid or improperly used after service and the customer says i have nop more money with me
                      #6 So a custoomer doesn't just leave the coupon and some cash on the table and leave, doing something like applying coupon value to alcohol which was excluded on the coupon.

                      1. re: bagelman01

                        I agree. Many years ago I worked for a restaurant that accepted a similar offer. Accepting the coupon ahead of time is really to make sure everyone involved understands what's what. Some of the offers, for example, restrict the diner's choices to certain menu items. It's basically to make sure there are no misunderstandings, not to cut portion sizes.

                        1. re: bagelman01

                          Bagleman01, you hit it right on the head. Those reasons are exactly why coupons are presented before the meal is ordered. Customers react badly to "surprises."