How to cut your restaurant bills in half
Restaurant.com has come highly recommended in some recent media reports. Here are the pros and cons.
This post comes from Karla Bowsher at partner site Money Talks News.
One of the best ways to save money is to cut out dining out. But you don't have to give up restaurant fare altogether: There are several ways to eat out and save.
Dining out less often is the obvious way. When it comes to lunch, for example, I bring mine from home. That way I eat healthier and don't feel guilty about going out for dinner with friends on weekends.
Another good way is with gift certificates from Restaurant.com. They can cut your bill in half, if not more. The website claims to have saved diners $500 million since 1999.
Last month, Restaurant.com was cited in Kiplinger's "Best bargains of 2011," CNNMoney's "Best couponing sites and apps" and USA Today's great dining deals. Despite the headlines, many people still haven't signed up to save. Many don't understand how the site works or think it's too good to be true.
Here's the gist: Restaurant.com sells restaurant gift certificates for less than their face value. These certificates allow customers to buy, say, $25 of restaurant food for as little as $2.
Here's why it's not too good to be true: Restaurants are willing to offer gift certificates at a discount to market themselves to a larger potential customer base.
Here's what you need to know to get the most out of Restaurant.com: Restaurant gift certificates (also referred to as restaurant-specific gift certificates) come in five denominations:
- $10 gift certificates, normally sold for $5.
- $25 gift certificates, normally sold for $10.
- $50 gift certificates, normally sold for $20.
- $75 gift certificates, normally sold for $30.
- $100 gift certificates, normally sold for $40.
They frequently go on sale, however, for as much as 80% off (which means a $25 gift certificate would cost only $2). Because this price becomes available once a month or so, you should always wait for the sales to buy. (I always give readers a heads-up when they're on sale at this price, so keep an eye on my Daily Deals posts at Money Talks News or my Deals & Coupons page.) Post continues after video.
Saving you money isn't the only advantage of restaurant gift certificates. They also:
- Never expire.
- Are emailed to you as soon as you buy them, so there's no shipping charge.
- Can be reprinted if you misplace them, unlike traditional gift cards (though Restaurant.com isn't responsible if they end up in someone else's hands).
- Are available for more than 18,000 restaurants nationwide. (Enter your ZIP code in the "Find a Restaurant and Save" box to see which restaurants in your area offer certificates.)
Restaurant gift certificates do have a few conditions, though none are deal-breakers.
- They are nonrefundable and nonreturnable.
- They are valid only on dine-in meals unless otherwise noted.
- They cannot be used to pay for taxes, tips or merchandise.
- They can be redeemed only once per month per restaurant (so you can redeem certificates as often as you want, as long as you don't use more than one at the same restaurant in a month).
- They cannot be combined with other gift certificates, gift cards, or coupons from Restaurant.com or elsewhere.
In addition, individual restaurants may add their own conditions. For example, take a $25 gift certificate I've used at a local sushi joint. In addition to Restaurant.com's rules, they require that I spend at least $35 in order to use the certificate, and they automatically apply an 18% tip.
They also don't let me use the certificate to buy promotional items, which means I pay for both rolls of sushi I order even when they have a two-for-one special. (Restaurant.com will always inform you of any restaurant-specific restrictions beforehand, so you won't be surprised by them.)
Still, the last time I was at that restaurant, I was able to buy close to $50 of food for $20 plus tip.
Just be sure to give your certificate to your server as soon as you're seated. They'll appreciate it because they won't have to total your order twice, and they'll be able to warn you about any restrictions before you place your order.
More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:
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I've used these coupons at some great restaurants; but I have one complaint about something that recently happened:
I purchased a coupon in mid-June this year, gave it to my daughter and her husband to use on vacation, and when they got to the restaurant and showed the coupon to the ownere, they were told by him that he cancelled his membership to "Restaurant.com" in April, 2011. The owner then proceeded to call them on the phone and call them names for not removing his restaurant from their list. This experience was embarrassing to my daughter and her husband. They stay at the restaurant and spent more money than was originally intended because the restaurant would not honor the coupon.
I have used restaurant.com certificates a few times for local places that I have not been to before. They have always worked perfectly for me, and have been easy to use. The restaurants have not always been the best, but that is not the fault of the website.
One place that I went to became a regular place for me, so it worked as advertised.
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