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Mar 8, 2013 02:29 PM

Circa on Chestnut, SF—Epic Groupon fail

Watch out for the Circa Groupon, which judging from their business last (Thursday) nite was the vast majority of their customers. They offer a "half price meal for two" ($60 for $118 worth), then hand you a special, limited-choice Groupon prix fixe menu with a three-course meal plus a bottle of wine whose price on their regular menu adds up to an average of under $30 apiece, maxing at $36. Unless you think their Rock & Vine 2011 Three Ranches cab (only red you can get with the groupon deal, not on wine list, didn't see what the chard they were offering was) is worth $60 (retail $11.99-$14.99), you need to know that you're getting maybe $60 retail worth of food, plus a medium-cheap bottle of wine, for your $60. (And paying tax, which it turned out wasn't included, on $118). At least, that probably explains how they got their name. The food ranged from mediocre down to a massively and miserably oversweet wet chocolate cake concoction (might have been flourless, but they didn't call it that) with an unidentifiably mocha-looking (but not tasting, actually mintlike) and even-sweeter scoop of ice cream; in sum, food as genuine as their Groupon offer.

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  1. We did tip, but on $60. Failed to mention high point of meal, when we inquired after the mushrooms used in their "wild mushroom fettuccine"; waitperson didn't know, and came back with the information that they were "button mushrooms, Portobellos, and some others". Another nice moment: waitperson uncorked the wine and poured me a taste, then filled our glasses when I put mine down, while I was still swishing and had neither said nor nodded a thing.

    1 Reply
    1. re: dave94703

      Food and service aside, the Groupon page at http://www.groupon.com/deals/circa-sa... mentions that it's a prix fixe in two different places and links to the prix fixe menu...

    2. i have never seen a groupon for a restaurant with GOOD food and GOOD service

      Groupon, to me, screams "WE HAVE PROBLEMS"

      1. Yes, sorry big wheel, didn't mean to imply that they didn't advertise it as prix fixe; just that the prix fixe price, compared to the same items on the regular menu, was plainly and vastly inflated.

        4 Replies
        1. re: dave94703

          I took a quick look at the prix fixe menu and the regular menu items listed on the website.

          The calamari app = $9
          pork chop = $16
          chocolate cake dessert = $8

          Total for 1 person = $33. For two people = $66.

          Retail bottle of wine is $15, could sell for $30 or more at a restaurant considering markup. From the website Circa has bottle service with Jack Daniels selling for $200 so the markups are considerable.

          So $66 worth of food and a bottle of wine with a markup comparable to other inflated bottle markups offered. I think you walked out with a reasonable discount to the regular menu.

          1. re: Scott M

            So $60 for $66 worth of food plus a bottle of wine that retails for around $12.99. At least it shows you that the restaurant is smart enough not to lose too much money on the deal. However, you could argue that it's misleading to claim that it's a $118 value, something that would imply that they would normally mark up the wine to $52. There is no way that a restaurant that is desperate enough to do Groupon deals would have the guts to do that. The Veuve Clicquot on their bottle service is $99, which is about twice the retail price and a more normal markup (even though there are restaurants that will charge $59). On the other hand, I think it would be pretty naive to assume that a restaurant with a healthy business would sell you something actually worth $118 for merely $60 and then split the $60 with Groupon. Caveat emptor.

            1. re: nocharge

              $30+ for that wine after markup would put the entire meal around $100. So it's a squabble over the discount being 40% rather than 50%. Hardly worth the rant.

              1. re: Scott M

                I don't know. In my experience, there are plenty of people who would rant on the internet if they felt that a restaurant had cheated them out of 20 bucks. Plus we live in a city where the City Attorney recently gave a grand standing press conference about going after restaurants for consumer fraud based on how a 4 percent surcharge may or may not have been worded on the menus.

        2. To add injury to injury, they have a caveat on the groupon that, should you fail to utilize it within the 3-month window, the $60 is only applicable to the prix fixe menu. So you actually have to fork out the $118 plus tax. And for anyone who thinks that that menu is not too much of a ripoff, remember that the point of a prix fixe menu is to DISCOUNT regular prices (or to offer a special meal not available à la carte, not the case here). When you come in the door the maitre 'D says, "Groupon?" and hands you the "prix fixe" menu. Regular patrons never see it.

          1. Circa's markup for the Moet & Chandon White Star NV is 2.5 times retail. The Rock & Vine is $22, with the same markup it would be $55. $66 + $55 = $121.


            18 Replies
            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              So you are telling us that by the same standards of retail price, a bottle of Rock & Vine would be $22 and a bottle of Moet & Chandon White Star would be $39.60? Well, good luck with that theory! But seriously, I challenge you to find a single person with a more than a single digit IQ who would pay $22 for the Rock & Vine bottle retail or $55 for the luxury of hanging out with the discount coupon crowd at a Marina restaurant. It's a $12 bottle of wine.

              1. re: nocharge

                The Moet is one of a few wines I find prices for on Circa's web site. They're charging $99 and it's $40 retail so that's 2.5X retail.

                According to the Nine North web site, the 2011 Rock & Vine is available only at restaurants and at the winery, where it's $22. So with the same 2.5X retail markup as the Moet & Chandon, it would be $55.

                It may be no better than a wine you could get for $12 retail, but strictly speaking it's a $22 bottle, so Circa's "$118 worth" is at least mathematically defensible.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Could you point me to a place that sells the Moet for 40 bucks?

                  Googling Rock & Vine there seems to be no shortage of places that sell it for $12-14.

                  1. re: nocharge

                    The Jug Shop and Bevmo among others have the Moet & Chandon for $40 / 750ml.

                    The only California retail source wine-searcher pro turns up for Rock & Vine 2011 is the winery. There are a few retailers out of state but I'm skeptical they actually have that vintage given that the winery says they sell it only to restaurants.

                    It may not be worth $22, and the Circa Groupon offer may be a terrible ripoff, but so far as I can see they're not downright lying about $60 for $118.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      So you are comparing the winery recommended list price (which everyone knows nobody is paying except for starry-eyed first time visitors to Napa Valley wineries) to prices for Champagne from major discounters? Seems a little unfair. No?

                      I'm not suggesting that Circa did anything criminally fraudulent, but at the same time, I can sympathize with the idea that the Groupon description was somewhat misleading. But as usual, if you are naive enough to believe that Groupon will give you a deal where you get immense value for virtually nothing, good luck in life!

                      1. re: nocharge

                        I agree, Groupon offers are the Jim Belushi of dining.

                        Lowball price for the Moet is $30.47 so I figured $40 is undiscounted, which is what you want to use to estimate the restaurant's markup.

                        Per the winery's web site, $22 is the actual retail price for the Rock & Vine, since it "is being offered exclusively to restaurants only and is not available for sale to off-premise retailers."

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Regardless of what the Nine North web site says, if you Google Rock and Vine 2011 cab you'll find lots of places that sell it online for about $12. That's probably a better comp because it reflects what you can buy it for today.

                          1. re: calumin

                            You can't buy it retail anywhere in California except at the winery for $22.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              I just found it here for $10.99 and they ship to CA.


                              Actually my point is something different - it's about what is a reasonable comp to start from when applying your 2.5x markup. The $40 seemed reasonable for the Moet, but places that sell the Moet for $40 are also selling the Rock & Vine for about $12. That's not related to what may or may not be available in physical retail outlets in CA.

                              1. re: calumin

                                Even if you go with your $12 price, let's assume you buy it and then bring it to the restaurant (BYOB). Corkage likely runs $20 (not sure what Circa charges). Then you are in for $32 right there. Consider it is usually cheaper to BYOB than to buy off the winelist and I doubt anyone would think Circa should sell the wine cheaper than if you brought it in yourself.

                                1. re: Scott M

                                  $32 isn't enough, to reach to the stated total value of $120, the wine needs to cost about $55. Honest or not, it seems like they had to be calculating 2.5 x the $22 retail price at the winery.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    I understand $32 isn't enough I was just making the point that even using the cheapest web price and adding corkage brings the meal to around $100. So valuing the meal at $118 or $120 doesn't appear to be completely out of line especially given your $22 winery price and markup.

                                    One other thing to note. I doubt a restaurant uses Groupon to "get one over" on a customer. Ultimately the restaurant would like the Groupon user to have a good experience and then come back and pay non-discounted pricing. Either way you slice it the Groupon offer/experience was discounted from the standard pricing of dinner (for 2) and a bottle of wine. If you didn't enjoy it then don't go back; but to quibble over whether you agree with the extent of the discount especially since you would be hard pressed to have a similar experience at the restaurant for under $100 seems petty.

                                2. re: calumin

                                  Standard markup for retail / MSRP is 1.5X wholesale. Around here standard markup for restaurants is 3X wholesale, or 2X undiscounted retail. (Drew Nieporent cited SF consumers' intolerance of the higher markups common in NYC as one reason he closed Rubicon.)

                                  You can't judge a restaurant's markup by discounted retail prices. Retailers that discount heavily may buy by the pallet to get substantial discounts on the wholesale price. On closeout, retailers may sell at cost because they need to make space for shipments coming in.

                                  The winery says the price is $22 and there's no other retailer in California selling it for less (or at all). I don't see that discount prices in New York are relevant. Michael Bauer used to get restaurant wine markups wrong all the time because the person he got his info from used Texas wholesale price lists.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    I think the larger issue is that if the offer is "half price meal for two" and there isn't another customer purchase scenario where someone would get the exact same experience for double the price, then it's a problem. The question of whether $55 is fair for a bottle of wine which you can buy for either $22 or $12 retail isn't that important by comparison.

                                    If it's buy one get one free, then you know you're getting (roughly) half price. In this scenario, you're left having to figure out what the restaurant was thinking, but it's all fiction because there's no "regular price" scenario.

                                    If they did offer this wine for $60 on their regular wine list, at least then you could calculate it yourself instead of having to estimate.

                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Amazing. You know, I just came here to alert people who care about dining out about a deceptive offer, and Lauriston has managed to construct an argument whereby a restaurant clearly doing everything in their power to turn a hefty profit on what's supposed to be a discount offer could, conceivably, under certain hypothetical conditions, be seen as offering a highly constrained selection off of their regular menu at regular prices. Some of you think that coupons are, by their nature, a raw deal; I've actually had a perfectly good experience three other times with them. Now I urge Lauriston to visit Circa and take personal measure of what he has decided is such a respectable establishment; I have no doubt he'll be able to convince himself the food is good too. Everyone else, consider yourselves duly warned.

                  1. re: dave94703

                    I'm just saying that the inflated markup on a perhaps overpriced (by the winery) bottle of wine makes the numbers add up to $118. Sounds like a bad place at any price.

                    1. re: dave94703

                      Note that the restaurant gets only half of the $60, so there's no profit, let alone a hefty one.

                      1. re: dave94703

                        Dave, I appreciate your intent but I too had a problem with your approach. If you had stated that you went to Circa on a Groupon deal and described the experience and you conclued that you would not return because even at the Groupon price you were underwhelmed, then that would have been a better explanation. But to imply some scam where you were duped when I can't make the numbers work where you didn't have a discounted meal. Bottomline, the meal can be considered discounted 50% under the terms laid out by Robert but even if you don't agree with the retail pricing and markup then worst case it was a 40% discount. I think if you were a little more focused on the food and dining experience and less about whether you extracted maximum discount from the restaurant then the posting would have gone over better.