I admit that nothing is free, but at least it should be as advertised correctly!
I recently purchased a Restaurants.com Gift Voucher that was listed on DealNews.com and sold through DealCurrent.com. The voucher touted all the great restaurants where the voucher could be used on the Restaurants.com website. There was one, in particular, that I wanted to use it at, and many others that I would consider trying.
After purchasing the voucher, I found the following:
1. There are two (or more?) Restaurant.com websites. One is very attractive and viewable to the general public. The other appears after you try to redeem a gift voucher. (Note that the gift voucher is used to purchase certificates for specific restaurants on the restaurants.com website.)
2. The public website lists a wide range of pricing options for each restaurants. The voucher site only lists one or two of the pricing options, and these are usually at the high end -- minimum purchase of $50 worth of food to redeem a $25 certificate. How does a couple spend $50 at a place where the meals top out at $8 ???
3. The voucher website does not list all of the restaurants on the public website. It appears that the voucher cannot be used to buy certificates for some of the most popular restaurants in a community.
After using my first voucher purchase, I also discovered that:
4. Restaurants can add additional requirements to the certificates that are not listed on the restaurants.com website or on the vouchers. In this particular instance, a Chinese restaurant would not allow the certificate to be used for any dish on their "Chinese menu" -- only dishes on the "Western menu" (i.e., cooked for a non-Chinese palate) were allowed.
Finally, this was not listed on the DealCurrent.com site, but buyers should be aware that:
5. The voucher buys a certificate that is only worth about 50% of the cost of the food. In addition, the 50% price saving is applied to the price of the food after an 18% tip is added. Personally, I do not find that to be a problem, but all of the vouchers also indicate on them "Please remember our staff" -- indicating to me that the automatic 18% gratuity charge may NOT be going to the staff. I cannot, however, confirm this either way -- but it is kind of strange...
SO - Is Restaurant.com worth it. Yes, it can be worth it if you:
(1) carefully read all the fine print -- but even then you will not know what it means until you actually try it the first time;
(2) expect to be surprised by challenges in using the voucher/certificates that you did not anticipate -- even after you get to the restaurant;
(3) expect to not be able to get all of the deals that were implied when you made the purchase, especially those that looked very attractive;
(4) if you see a restaurant that you might want to try at a price that you like, grab it -- the certificates do not expire and the list of restaurants and offers change over time; and
(5) check back periodically for new restaurants and offers -- maybe that one restaurant that I really wanted to use my voucher for will someday appear on the voucher page!
Overall, this voucher reminds me a lot of the Timeshare vacation market: deceptively using people's desire to save a buck by selling an attractive product as cheap and easy, when it is in fact a challenge to use. Rebates, in general, can be like that, which is why many people never submit the rebates offered on the products they buy (I always do). And perhaps that is how Restaurant.com makes its money -- though to me, that is very deceptive!
UPDATE April 7, 2011 - I got the following response from Restaurant.com when I complained about not seeing restaurants on the gift voucher site that were on their main site:
"I apologize for any inconvenience. The restaurant has a pre-determined number of gift certificates we are allowed to sell, and that inventory is split between the site for redemption (www.theidealmeal.com) and the site that you can purchase certificates (www.restaurant.com). Unfortunately, popular restaurants may be out of stock within a couple of hours from the replenishment of gift certificates. When the restaurant is sold out on the redemption site the restaurant listing will not appear. Each restaurant has its own stipulations and agreements with Restaurant.com. All restaurants are replenished through an automated system and have gift certificates available at various times throughout the month. All gift certificates replenish on or about the first of each month."
There are at least two usage tips in this response:
1 - There are two different websites! I did encounter this, but was totally confused by it until this email cleared up the difference.
2 - The gift voucher site gets "replenished" on the first of the month. So perhaps, in three weeks, the a couple of restaurants that appear on the certificate site will again appear on the gift voucher site where I can snap them up. It is on my calendar to check it out.
UPDATE May 2, 2011 - Two More Shortcomings....
(1) I have used two Restaurant.com coupons, so far. In both instances, I thought I was going to have a lot of leftovers, because I would need to buy more food that I normally do to meet the minimum purchase requirement to use the coupon. (For example, at one you needed to buy $20 of food to use a $10 discount coupon.)
In both place, we at all of the food, easily. In both places, when the food was served we thought that the quantity on the plates was on the small side. These were a Chinese restaurant and a Thai restaurant.
Maybe that is the normal size of the dishes that we ordered. If so, I think both places were overpriced -- at least on some of the dishes. Or maybe Asians are cheap (I am Asian, myself) and they are just trying to save money by making dishes for Restaurant.com coupon users smaller -- and maybe other restaurants do not do this.
I do not know, but so far, I have not been impressed with what I have gotten when I used the Restaurant.com coupon. This seems to be another shortcoming of the Restaurant.com discount program.
(2) It is the start of the month, so I checked to see if the list of restaurants available for the discounts had changed, as Restaurant.com told me, and which I posted indicated in my update, above. Nope -- no changes -- at least not hear in Flagstaff. This is a Big Bummer!
Based on what I have been experiencing so far, it seems to me that the Restaurant.com are deceptive, and *may* result in me spending more on restaurants that I normally would.