By Donna L. Montaldo. Coupons/Bargains Expert
Donna Montaldo is a journalist who combines her past experience in the retail industry with her experience and passion for using coupons and finding bargains. Read more
Have you ever wondered about the great deals that you see at Restaurant.com? For example, the deals that say you can get a restaurant certificate valued at $25 for just $4? Are the gift certificates better than the deals you can get with restaurant coupons or loyalty cards ?
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I also wanted to share the experience with my readers by giving Restaurant.com a full and honest review.
Getting Started With Restaurant.com
To begin the process I logged onto Restaurant.com. typed in my zip code and a page was displayed that showed 22 restaurants that had $25 certificates available. I had the opportunity to read the menus, map out the locations, see a picture of the restaurants and use the contact information available to call the restaurants directly to make sure that they were still accepting the certificates.
Important "Not So Small" Print
Then I started reading the general terms of using the certificates which is clearly stated under the Customer Help/FAQ link found at the bottom of each page. This contained helpful information and I suggest everyone read it before making a purchase.
The most important terms that I found had to do with using the certificates, tipping and problems that might occur when trying to redeem a certificate at the restaurants.
If you are interested in a restaurant-specific gift certificate, meaning you select the specific restaurant, you can only use one gift certificate per party, per month, even if the party is seated at separate tables and/or receives more than one check.
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So if you are planning to use the certificates while vacationing or when out of town, keep in mind that you can only use one per month.
Also, tipping (18 percent or higher) is included based on the amount before the certificate is applied.
Since most of the certificates have a minimum over the amount of the certificate that you must spend, you may want to figure out what you will need to order to meet the minimum you must spend, the menu prices, the tip and the $4 you spent for the certificate to see what your actual out-of-pocket expense could be. In some cases it could cost you more than you would normally spend if you went to the restaurant without a certificate.
Regarding customer satisfaction, Restaurant.com states that if for some reason a restaurant does not take the certificate or if you are unhappy with the restaurant, they will exchange the certificate, but will not refund the money. This is good information to know, especially if you live in a town that is not close to a larger city.
The policy states:
- "If you aren't satisfied with your choice of restaurant for any reason, just contact customer service by phone or email and you can exchange your Restaurant Gift Certificate for a either a Restaurant.com eGift Card or a Restaurant Gift Certificate to a different restaurant with an equivalent value." - Restaurant.com
Doing the Math for the Best Deals
For the certificates to really pay off, you will want to opt for the more expensive restaurants with terms that include low minimums and the basic 18 percent gratuity.
Once I did the math it limited me to 10 good restaurant choices. Also, on some of the restaurant listings I noticed that Restaurant.com had "Best Value" by some of the listings which was helpful.
I ended up choosing two restaurants based on the minimum requirements, when I could eat there and pay with the certificates and how much the tip would run. All of the information is available on the listing page and once again before you finalize your payment.
The Purchasing Process
Since it my was first time buying a certificate I had to register for an account. Use a real email account because you will receive a verification email after you register. Also, you will need to have your Paypal or credit card ready because you must enter the information to go any further.
Next came the check out process which was very simple. It shows the restaurants selected, the amount of gift certificates ordered for each one and the price quoted on the listing page which is before applying the special coupon code.
Adding the Coupon Code
There is a place to put your coupon code (which is
likely case sensitive) on the top right-hand corner. When you enter it you will then see the adjusted amounts of the certificates (in my case it was $8 for two) and if you agree, you select "Proceed to Checkout."
Not all restaurants agree to the coupon code, so do not assume that your choice received the special discount. Always verify the total invoice before having your payment processed.
You may then receive other offers to add to your bill, all of which I declined.
Be Prepared to Print
Once your payment has been accepted you will see a page directing you to print the certificates. I did not know this option would be immediate and I was out of printer ink, so I was afraid that I would somehow lose the certificates since I was unable to print them at that moment. Luckily because I had an account, I was able to log in later and print the certificates.
Going to the Restaurants
- The first certificate we redeemed was for lunch or dinner on Monday through Friday only. The minimum was $35 with a tip of 18 percent before the certificate was applied. My husband and I enjoy trying out different appetizers so we ordered three and two fish entrees. We also had a soft drink each and I had coffee.
The total bill before the tip was $43.60.
Total Bill: $51.45 or $25.73 each
After the certificate it was $29.45 or $14.73 each.
Add in the price of the certificate of $4 and it came to $16.73 each
The service was excellent, the food was delicious and the price after the certificate was good. We will definitely go back to the restaurant again.
At this restaurant we ordered two appetizers, soup and salad and two sandwiches.
The total bill before the tip was $58.20
Total bill: $68.68 or $34.34 each
After the certificate it was $34.34 or $17.17 each.
Add in the price of the certificate of $4 and it comes to $19.17 each.
Depending on where you live the expense could seem like a good deal or a pricey meal. For us it seemed reasonable even if borderline high.
At the second restaurant the sandwiches were huge and very fresh as was the gumbo, so we were satisfied and actually left with half of a sandwich each in a to-go box.
The service was very good at both restaurants so the tip did not bother me, even though I am normally a 15 percent tipper.
My experience in purchasing Restaurant.com certificates was very good, but I did have to do the research mentioned above in order to make it a good deal. Also, my expectations were in check, meaning I never expected to get a free meal, but rather a nice discount on a typical dining experience.
Since I did not have a problem I cannot voice an opinion on how Restaurant.com resolves problems and I have read both favorable and non-favorable comments about it. However, most of the negative reviews I have read center more around customers not seeing or reading the minimums, tip requirements and "no refund/exchange only" terms.
I can see how customers could run into problems if they live in smaller towns and there is a limited amount of restaurants listed. What can happen in this situation is that a restaurant may decide to stop accepting the gift certificates (which is their right) and there is no other restaurant around that participates. Since there is a "no refund" policy, some customers could be stuck with a worthless certificate unless they plan on visiting a larger city. At that point they could exchange their certificate.
So far I have found the gift certificates to work as I expected and I will definitely check out what is available the next time I see one with a coupon code offering $25 certificates for $5 or less. But everyone is in different situations and I highly recommend that as with everything, read the small print, call the restaurant to see if they are still participating, and only make a purchase if you have a choice of restaurants within a close proximity to where you live.