Restaurants are running out of money, which means more of them are trying to lure in new customers with coupons. Even the ritziest eateries are starting to run clippable promos in newspaper circulars, promising free appetizers or two-for-one entrées to any penny-pincher with the sense to cash in on the restaurant's miserable financial fortunes.
I have no beef with coupons, and hope they work to resuscitate some of the restaurants that seem in serious danger of shuttering due to the recession. But, for whatever reason, coupon users tend to be among the most impolite diners. Here then, a guide to using coupons – without making an enemy of your server (which, as outlined in previous columns, is never a wise thing to do).
- Don't create a little coupon shrine on your table. Many coupon-carriers, terrified their server might accidentally charge them full price, make a point of prominently positioning their coupon as soon as they're seated. I've seen coupons folded and set on the edge of the table, propped up by the salt and pepper shakers and balanced on candle holders. All that conveys is cheapness, which is what all servers dread. Try your best to keep your coupon enthusiasm in check.
- Know your coupon. Coupons are incredibly generous right now, but that doesn't mean there isn't any fine print. Some coupons can only be used on certain days. Other coupons require you to order a specific menu item. If the coupon says it's only good for entrees under $20, it may not cover the porterhouse steak. That's not your server's fault. A coupon is a gift from the restaurant, not a negotiation tool.
- Ask coupon questions at the appropriate juncture. There's rarely a reason to even discuss coupon use at the start of a meal (unless the fine print dictates otherwise); servers will know just what to do when you slide the coupon into the check presenter with your credit card. But if you're wondering about a coupon's terms, ask at the outset rather than fuming when the bill arrives.
- Tip accordingly. It's not uncommon for a coupon to stipulate an 18-percent gratuity on the pre-discounted check. But if your coupon doesn't cover service, remember to tip on the items for which you didn't pay: Your server works just as hard to bring you a free meal as one purchased without a coupon.
What do you think? Do you have other suggestions for making the most of dining experiences underwritten by coupons?