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Jul 26, 2012 01:00 PM

Mentioning Special Deals

I live in L.A. and grew up in St. Louis, where I visited this past week. I keep in touch with the hometown restaurant scene on the "Great Plains" board, the websites for local publications, and signing up for notices from individual restaurants.

A longtime St. Louis favorite, Harvest, advertises a special "3 for $30" deal on Tuesday and Thursday nights on its website -- an entree (most of their entrees are mid-$20s or approaching $30) and two other courses (apps, salads, desserts -- which hover between $7 and $10, the three more expensive starters require a supplement) for $30. Good deal for a very nice restaurant. So I had my mom make reservations for a Thursday evening when I arrived in town.

Here's the issue: The "3 for $30" offer is nowhere on the menu. It wasn't a problem for us -- I asked for it and it was provided. But I paid particular attention to the neighboring table -- they ordered entrees (fish, approaching $30 by itself) and one or two starters for a table of three, and the server never mentioned the deal. Is this cool?

Would it have been out of line for me to interject, politely, "You may not be aware, but they offer a "3 for $30" deal on Tuesdays and Thursdays where your starters and desserts would almost be free"?

I guess my position is clear: If you are going to offer a special, you should make sure all of your customers know about it. I'd feel stupid and a bit taken if I realized I'd paid mid-$40s for a dinner I could have had for $30.

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  1. One of the ways businesses evaluate their advertising dollars is by response to the ad. This may be a coupon redeemed, or a customer asking for what was advertised in a particular location.

    If the business spent X dollars for the ad (and a website is an ad) then they have no way of evaluating the response to the ad if the advertised special is offered to every patron who walks in the door,

    Sometimes a business will offer different specials in different ads and compare response.

    Having been a business owner, I don't agree with your position.

    Best explanation, every patron can order from the menu and pay the same price, but the wise shopper may get a better deal. How many different airfares are there for a coach seat on the same flight? Many.

    13 Replies
    1. re: bagelman01

      Completely agree with all points of that analysis.

      1. re: bagelman01

        Excellent point, BM. What I've always wondered about is why are we supposed to present a coupon when ordering instead of when paying. Does the discounted price mean less food?

        1. re: mucho gordo

          Good question. I would like to hear an answer from someone in the know!

          1. re: mucho gordo

            mucho (and mother of four)...........
            No, the discounted coupon doesn't mean less food. In fact it might signal the establishment that you are a first time customer and they will step up service/portions/attention.

            There are many reasons why the coupon is asked to be presented first:
            Most important it allows the establishment to examine the coupon, make sure it is valid and that the order placed is in compliance with the rules on the coupon. This avoids arguments when the bill is presented.
            If the coupon is presented when the server brings the check to the table, then the check will have to be refigured, wasting time.
            In some jurisdictions the value of the coupon is not taxable, so the total must be figured to comply with the tax law. Example $50 order at 10% tax rate = $55 total. Patron hands the server $35 + a coupon worth $20 off two dinners. If the jurisdiction doesn't tax the gross sale, but after coupon, the the check should have been $50 less $20 coupon = $30 + $3 tax, the patron would only have to pay $33 cash.

            If the coupon says Buy 1 dinner get 1 free with the purchase of an alcoholic berverage per adult, the server can say to the patrons, 'I'm sorry, this coupn is not valid for a free dinner if you are ordering soda to drink" If presented at the end, the server would be hard pressed to force the issue.

            Biggest problem of non-compliance with coupon terms, is the patron who puts the coupon and his adjusted payment (in cash) in the check wallet and walks out, telling the server 'it's on the table.' Server opens the check wallet and finds an expired coupon and is liable to the house for the full bill.

            Most coupons remind the patron that gratuity is expected on the gross bill, or that gratuity will be added before computing bill. This ensures that the server gets a gratuity comensurate with the value of the meal served, not on the after coupon value. The amount of revenue represented by the coupon is an advertising expense of the establishment, not an expense that should be borne by the server.

            1. re: bagelman01

              What you say makes sense but I still can't help wondering if, with a coupon, a 12 oz steak won't become a 10 oz steak. Is the customer going to weigh it or notice a difference?

              1. re: mucho gordo

                In most places that are having these coupons/specials they are not c utting each steak to order. They have a case of xoz steaks from their purveyor and throw one on the broiler as ordered.
                If in fact it's a restaurant that hand cuts each steak, there will be weight variations anyway. There's just not enough money in the 2oz savings to garner potential ill will.

                1. re: bagelman01

                  I'm not implying that the restaurants are cheating, BM. I am saying that it's a win-win deal. The customer gets exactly what they pay for and the restaurant doesn't have to absorb the discount.

                  1. re: mucho gordo

                    Actually, the customer would not be getting what he's paying for................
                    The customer is enticed to come to the restaurant and get the REGULAR full priced portion at a discount. Instead, he is being served a smaller portion at a lower price. The advertising would be fraudulent and NO discount would actually have been given

                    1. re: bagelman01

                      I understand your point but let me give you an example of what I'm familiar with. Tony Roma's will run a $10.00 off on a $40.00 or more order; not necessarily on a specific dish. We usually order 2 full slabs of beef ribs, for take-out, which is about 14 ribs total. The last couple of times, when I got the order home, I was short 2 ribs. I just assumed I got what I paid for and didn't bring it to their attention.

                      1. re: mucho gordo

                        Maybe the restaurant's portion size was decreased overall instead of raising prices?

                        1. re: Stephanie Wong

                          I suppose that's possible. I could ask or place an order without the coupon and count the ribs when I get home.

            2. re: mucho gordo

              Where I am, deals tend not to be a % discount but special menus, "BOGOF" offers and the like. Although one of my local places has an annual "sale" in January, along with the sales that retail shops have at that time, where they simply knock a % off all menu prices.

              Some places do offer % discount deals but you usually need to mention them at the time you're making your reservation (the presumption then being that someone not making a reservation is not going to attract the deal)

          2. So back to the question: I know about the "3 for $30" special. I hear another table giving their orders, uninformed, where the special would save them money. Should I interject and let them know, "With the entrees you've ordered, there is a special where your starters and desserts would essentially be free."?

            6 Replies
            1. re: nosh

              No, you should not. The offer was for users of their website. It was already explained and answered above, very eloquently, by bagelman, who explained why this is.

              What if they required you to print out a coupon from their website? Should you print out 100 of them and hand them out outside the front door to everyone who is about to enter?

              1. re: acgold7

                There is no coupon, printed or not. The website says there is a "Three for $30 Special" on TuTh, and says nothing about it being a website special or restricted to email customers.

                Assume you are a customer and liked Harvest enough to go to their website after a good meal. Wouldn't you be pissed if you paid $45 for a meal you could have gotten more for $30?

                1. re: nosh

                  Yes, I would. But that isn't the point.

                  The business is under no obligation to offer the same deal to every customer.

                  The only way they can know which channels of communication are most effective is to offer different deals via each channel. You telling people about a channel they haven't gone through messes that up.

                  This is why websites ask you to enter a promo code when you buy something. They want to know which ad you've seen/heard/read.

                  It may seem like the point of a discount promotion like that is to get customers in the door, but that's not it. The point is that it is a bribe to get you to tell them what kind of advertising is most effective. The discount is part of the research cost.

                  Most importantly, you are not Robin Hood. It is not your calling to spread the discounts around to the world to cost the restaurant money. And even if you disagree about why the discount exists, that's all you are doing, because at that point the guests are already there, so the discount didn't bring the restaurant more business -- all you are doing is costing the business money on customers who were already there, and given that most restaurants operate on about a 10% margin, a 33% discount means you just lost them money on that table.

                  The discount is for their website guests, which if these other people were, they'd know about the discount without you.

              2. re: nosh

                Should you interject>>>NO
                You should not be listening in strangers' orders and intruding on their space and conversatioin, just because you think they should spend less money.

                Above all, good manners would not permit your butting in to strangers' business.

                1. re: bagelman01

                  I agree. You really have no business eavesdropping on the conversation of others. Yes, sometimes overhearing can't be helped, but it would be rude to basically let the other table know that you're listening to them. It might make them be self-conscious about their conversation if they thought that some stranger was listening to them. You would put them in an awkward position by acknowledging your eavesdropping. I'd just be quiet if I were you.

                  +1 on bagelman01's earlier explanation.

                  1. re: nofunlatte

                    In my mind paying attention as a table orders (exchange with the server) is a whole different ballgame than eavesdropping on a private conversation.

                    C'mon, soon some of you will be insulted or feel intruded upon when a gorgeous plate goes by or something unusual I don't recognize and I ask "What was that dish?"

              3. You need to let the restaurant have some profit. If it bothers you that these customers are subsidizing your meal, you too can pay full price.

                1. How do you know the server doesn't just ring up the special price even though the table didn't explicitly request it?

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: akq

                    Why assume that the server is dishonest?
                    Unless you can see what the server rings up, you won't know. In many places the server doesn't ring up the sale, a cashier or hostess does, but the chances are the printout of the check (if the establishment has a POS systemn) will itemize the bill cutting the chance for dishonesty.

                    1. re: bagelman01

                      What I mean is - if you go to a bar during HH not knowing it's HH and order a drink or app that has a special HH price, your bill will generally reflect the special HH price even though you had no idea. It's a happy surprise. If there's a lunch special, same thing. I've been to some restos and ordered a bottle of wine only to find out (happily) that it's 1/2 price bottle night. I guess I'd never know if a resto was holding back on a special promotion that I didn't know to request, but my experience has been that even unsuspecting patrons get the benefit of special pricing even if they didn't know to ask and would have otherwise paid full price.

                      1. re: akq

                        HH or lunch specials are quite different from what the OP presented and are offered to all who come through the door during those time periods.
                        The OP presented a situation where something was advertised in one specific place (in this case the website) and patrons had to ask for the special deal. This is an effective way of judging the value of advrtising dollars (as I explained in my first post in this thread).

                        1. re: bagelman01

                          Ahh. I didnt realize the OP knew the resto would only extend the deal if someone specifically requests it.