Groupon works by featuring a “deal of the day” to email customers, offering discounts to local and national companies. One coupon per day is offered in each market it serves; the deal only becomes available if a certain number of people sign up for the offer, or when the deal is “tipped.” There is no upfront cost for retailers, and Groupon keeps half of the money the customer pays. Typically while the deal is only available for a few days, it can be used for a much longer period. Problems arise if the deal isn’t fully spelled out, or if the demand exceeds the quantity.
Mark and Stasha Cohen went to Trattoria Rustica, attempting to use their Groupon. They told Baristanet that their waitress had said they could use the Groupon for either a la carte or the prix fixe option. Eventually they were told that they could not use the Groupon on the prix fixe:
When we told her that was not acceptable to us, she left and came back with another server to argue with us. Again, we were not given a check. We demanded a check and were told “I have to check with the owner.” A good deal of time passed, still no check and still a demand that we pay based on the full price of each individual item in the check with the $30 groupon(which we had paid $15 when we purchased it) deducted from the bill. If we had agreed to this, we would have received no benefit whatsoever from the Groupon since the bill would have been $15 higher than the cost of the prix fixe meals. … To make matters worse, apparently Trattoria Rustica’s staff thought it was appropriate to call the Montclair Police Department, as three patrolcars showed up to deal with the situation! Eventally, the police officers managed to convince the serve staff that we were correct and that we should pay our bill based on the prix fixe dinner cost.
Owner Pat Turano stated that the customers became belligerent, and that the person who had told them the Groupon was applicable was not a waiter, but a busgirl. “It says you can’t combine it with any other offer,” Turano explained. Two other couples, he said, told the Cohens to sit down, he said (Turano was not on the premises during the incident, but called the police himself in response to a call from the restaurant). Something similar happened the night before with a woman using a Groupon, he said. “Every restaurateur I know that has used them says ‘we will never use them again.'”
Toro Sushi bar in Upper Montclair is under contract with Groupon but still working out a deal. “We agreed to 100, but they sold 723 coupons,” says owner Amy Chen. “Our customers are not happy.” They are working out a deal as to when the coupons can be used.
Chris Pavone, manager of Bar Cara, was manager of Fascino in Montclair, and had a mostly positive experience with Groupon. “It seemed to bring a lot of new customers in,” he said, many of whom returned, though he did see that the lower tips upset some of the waiters.
Mesob, in Montclair, also used Groupon. “We did it before anyone else,” said owner Bertti Mengistu. “For one time it worked, but we wouldn’t do it again.” For her, one downside was that there were no black-out dates when they signed on, and their Friday and Saturday nights were strong.
Greg Spinelli, owner of Tapastry Restaurant on Church Street, had nothing but praise for Groupon. They ran a special Nov. 21-22, and “we sold over 900 coupons that are good through the end of May.” Three weeks into it, he said he is seeing a “fair amount of repeat business, and people paying full retail.” Unlike some other restauranteurs, he has had no problem with customers misunderstanding the deal. “We anticipated and made our Groupon very user friendly. We have no restrictions, other than that there is just 1 per table.” He’s seen not only a lot of new faces, but a large age bracket as well, from people in their mid 20s through their mid 70s. So successful was the Groupon that he’s planning to do it again in the 1st quarter to promote the restaurant’s brunch. “You’ve got to know with a coupon, people are looking for a deal, and be prepared,” he said.
Have you used Groupon to eat out? What was your experience?