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It's a Coupon, Not Gift Certificate
Restaurant.com markets the discounts as “Gift Certificates” which they certainly are not. A true gift certificate has a value associated with it and that value is taken off the top of the bill. When you use a $25 Restaurant.com coupon your bill is being reduced by $25. Although that may seem the same to you, it’s not. Pay with a gift certificate and your server could care less. Pay with a Restaurant.com “gift certificate” and the waiter will instantly identify you as one of the dreaded "coupon people."
Unless a “gift certificate” specifically requires a tip based on the undiscounted amount, the waiter may assume that they will get a much lower tip. The waiter also know that Restaurant.com client is the “person who paid $2 for that $25 coupon.” Which means he's bracing himself for a tip from a cheapster. Of course, in this economy, they should just be happy that you showed up, but you might get less than attentive service.
Minimum Purchase Amounts
With a real gift certificate, the total amount is taken off your bill. Not so with a Restaurant.com certificate. Restaurant.com requires a minimum purchase for each gift coupon. So, you need to pay attention to that. If you find one of their $25.00 coupons comes with a $35 minimum, that's as good as it gets. Of course, The Restaurants are banking on the hope that you will end up spending a lot more than the $35.00. But a $35 minimum with a $25 certificate is pretty reasonable.
There are a few other things you need to be aware of. Alcohol is often excluded. When you get to the high denomination coupons, the minimums get pretty high. For instance, a $100 certificate might come with a $200 minimum. So if you hit the magic $200, you might end up paying about $170 with taxes and tips out the door. But if you only manage to order $170 worth of goodies, you'll end up needing to get more dessers to hit the minimum. So always do the math and make sure you eat enough to target that minimum. A good strategy is to have a couple certificates of varying values and then use the minimum amount one that would be appropriate.
Maximum Amounts are Low: Even if you order tap water, you'd be hard pressed to keep your order under $50 at many of the restaurants that only offer $25 certificates. Go with a party of four and your $25 gift certificate effectively has a $100 minimum. Your certificate therefore ends up shaving off 25% of the bill and you may have paid $10 for that. Not much savings when you factor in the 18% tip. Best to order the blue plate special. Again, look for restaurants that have both the $25 and at least a $50 certificate.
Can’t Combine: Real gift certificates can be combined to pay your bill in full. Not so with Restaurant.com’s certificates. You can’t take two $25 coupons and use them together to get $50 off a $70 meal. In addition, you can’t take advantage of many specials that the restaurant has. For instance, those $2 happy hour appetizers are $6 for you if you use your Restaurant.com coupon.
Only Certain Days: Some restaurants have limitations on the days that they allow for the certificates. The better ones exclude Friday and Saturday nights. Some just allow 1 day a week. Many of these restaurants already have happy hour or 2 for 1 specials midweek anyways. So you could pay $10 for something that you might have gotten for free. In addition you can only use one coupon per restaurant per month. So if you want to pay frequent visits to you favorite bistro, Restaurant.com won’t help you much. For me, this isn’t that big of a problem because we don’t eat out that much. Additionally, it seems that fewer restaurants are limiting the days in these tough times.