Follow The Rules and You Can Save A Lot of Money
Aug 12, 2008
Restaurant.com is an interesting website that may save you some money when you dine out. The website sells savings certificates to restaurants across the country. I have used the services at Restaurant.com quite a few times now, and I have indeed saved a great deal of money. But, with anything that seems to good to be true, there are quite a few catches.
How Does Restaurant.com work?
Restaurant.com offers savings certificates that may be used at specific restaurants across the country. They offer these savings certificates at a discount. For instance, you can buy a $10 savings certificate for $3, or a $25 savings certificate for $10. You simply do a search for your restaurant (by typing in a zip code and specifying a radius to search around that zip, or by selecting your state and drilling down from there), and then select the value of the certificate that you wish to purchase. After you complete the checkout process, you can print your certificate and take it with you to the restaurant for instant savings.
What Types of Restaurants are on Restaurant.com?
This may vary by geographical location, but in my area (Northern NJ), it is mostly individually owned restaurants, not franchises. I see a lot of smaller Italian restaurants, mixed with some restaurants offering eclectic or other cuisines. Most restaurants are smaller, less established businesses. That makes sense as those types of restaurants would be the most likely to feel the need to draw in more business through this type of program. I have not seen any fast food restaurants in the database at Restaurant.com.
Although it is indeed mostly non-franchised businesses at Restaurant.com, I did find one establishment that is indeed a franchise. Tiffanys restaurant (also known as Tiffs) is a NJ-based franchise. I have used these certificates at the Morris Plains location. So while this establishment is not a larger, national franchise, it does show that some do exist on the service.
So What Is the Catch?
When you purchase a certificate at Restaurant.com, you have to pay attention to the rules. Some times, there are a ton of rules, and they vary by each restaurant. For instance, I used a $25 certificate last night at Tiffanys. In order to qualify for my $25 certificate, my order had to total at least $35 (which was easy). The certificate also could not be combined with any other specials. Yesterday was kids eat free night at Tiffanys, and we have 2 little ones. The manager actually decided to let us have both the certificate, and the 2 kids meals for free as an exception. However, he told us that in the future it should really be one or the other. I thought that was very nice of him, especially considering we were fully prepared to pay for the kids meals.
I have seen some restaurants where you need to spend at least double the coupons value. For instance, my friend gave me a $75 certificate to a fancier Italian place. But, we would have needed to spend at least $150 in order to use the certificate. For that particular establishment, alcohol was not allowed to be included in the total. Also, the certificate was only valid Monday through Thursday. So, I would have had to find a sitter for the kids and found another couple to join us for a fancy dinner on a weeknight in order to get our food total anywhere near $150. Other rules that I have seen include the certificate being valid for lunch only, or the certificate being valid for dine-in only (no take out orders).
You should also know that in most states, the certificates expire within a year.
Do Restaurants Have a Problem Taking These Certificates?
So far, no. I have used certificates at 3 different restaurants so far, and not one has given me a problem. One server looked at the certificate for awhile, simply because she never saw it before. Since you print the certificate yourself, they look kind of funny (sort of like when you print coupons for the grocery store online). My ink jet printer was running out of ink, and that did not help the situation. But, I am sure she sought help from her manager or another server, because when she returned to the table the value of our coupon was deducted from our check and all was fine.
What Else Do I Need to Know?
First, as a former waitress, I need to mention to always tip on the pre-discounted amount. You may pay only $25 for your bill, but your server gave you $50 worth of food and deserves to be tipped on that amount. If people start to under-tip, I am sure some restaurants will withdraw from the program.
Next, I mentioned the sample prices previously. You should almost never had to pay that much! Only once did I actually pay $10 for a $25 dining certificate. You see, Restaurant.com issues coupon codes from time to time. These codes are worth 50% or more off of your order. I frequently see 50%, but I have also seen 70% and even 80% off. That makes a $25 dining certificate only $2! When I find a good coupon code, I stock up on certificates since they are valid in NJ for up to 1 year from the date of purchase.
If you see a good coupon code but do not have a specific restaurant in mind, you can also purchase what they call a mega certificate. A mega certificate is basically like a gift certificate to their site. So, I could purchase a $25 mega certificate for $2 with the 80% off coupon code. Then, when I am ready, I can revisit the website and redeem my mega certificate for a specific restaurant certificate. Its great because since you print everything yourself, you can do it minutes before leaving for the restaurant.
How is Customer Service?
Well, lets just say it is a good thing that you can order online and print your certificates yourself, because as far as I know customer service is non-existent at Restaurant.com. I happen to have purchased a certificate for a restaurant that just went out of business. I wanted to exchange the certificate for another restaurant, which is something that the company says they allow per the FAQ section of their website. I called the customer service number all day yesterday, and it was always busy. I also called the other number on their website intended for new orders, and that line was busy all day as well. I must have called each number 20 times over my 8 hour work day, and not once did either number ring. I wonder if perhaps those numbers are no longer in service and they have not yet updated their website for the new numbers?
I also emailed them at the email address posted on their website. I have not yet heard back. If I dont hear from them, I may lose my $3. That frustrates me, but I have saved so much more that Ill just write it off.
So Whats Your Final Rating?
I give Restaurant.com 4 stars out of 5. I cannot give them 5 stars due to their seemingly non-existent customer service. I also wish these were true gift certificates without all of the catches, but I understand why some restaurants would not want to agree to that. Overall, if you read the rules BEFORE you make your purchase, you will probably agree that this is a great way to save money when dining out. I will continue to place orders at this website for some time to come, although in the future Ill probably call the restaurant first to make sure they have no plans to close before I place my order.