Sunday, May 5, 2013

Coupons Trending

Coupon Trends Over the Past Few Years

Coupons are the double-edged sword of the restaurant biz.  They steal your profits (which you have a complete right to) but they can bring in new customers.  Many people won't try a new restaurant without a coupon.  Some of those won't go to a restaurant at all without one,

As you can imagine, a delicate balance has been struck by restaurateurs who offer coupons.


Section I:  Who Offers Coupons?

It used to be that only Mom & Pop proprietors and fast food joints offered coupons.  Their Restaurants sat in locations that had little or no auto traffic.  Or perhaps they needed to sell more product to meet sales goals.

Now, just about everyone - big & small - offers coupons.  First out of a sense of community.  Non-profit fund raisers (e.g. school booster groups) are able to sell more coupon books when big names are available.  And the big names earn a "sense of belonging" in the surrounding neighborhoods.  Second: fierce competition.  The proprietors start to get more business from the people looking to get a good deal.

Section II:  Coupon Venues

Originally, customers dutifully sat around their dining tables with Sunday editions of their newspapers as well as the weekly load of print ads delivered by mail and door hangers.  They would spend two or three hours flipping page after page; scanning for coupons based on restaurant genre, location, and known reputation.

It should be no surprise, however, that coupons are now widely available online.  Internet coupon websites like,, and have been around for several years.  These internet coupon companies are very popular with shoppers.

And there are a few reasons for this.  First, customers can narrow their search for a restaurant by several factors such as: location, food type (BBQ, Mexican, etc.), and type of coupon.  This in turn reduces the amount of time they spend looking for coupons.  Second, they can also compare coupons between restaurants.  Third, using a computer (especially in this type of application) makes the shopper feel smarter and more powerful.  Who knew couponing online could produce megalomania?

But couponing online produces one more magical effect.  The internet shopper pays for the coupon they print off.  Even if the amount is miniscule, paying for it heightens the value of the coupon and keeps it at the forefront of the customer's mind.  So they are much more likely to come to your establishment than those who still flip through direct mail packages.

Section III:  Coupon Values

The value of coupons has been getting lower over the years.  Driven by competition, increased quality of home-cooked meals, and the economy, restaurant profit margins have been hit hard.  Consequently, the discounts available on coupons have dropped sharply.

Early coupons were for 50% off your meal.  Then, 25%.  Then 10%.

Then came "Buy one, Get  one free".  The free meal is always of equal or lesser value.

Then came "Buy one, Get one free ... when both diners purchase a beverage of any kind".

Also popular beginning in the early 2000's:  "Buy $20 or more and get $5 off."

Then, whatever coupon you used came with the stipulation: "Not valid with any other offer."  and "Only one per party."

Over the last five yeas, "Buy one, get one free" became "By one, get one half off."

Most internet coupons require you to purchase $xx amount to get $xx amount off.  For example, issued a $16 coupon on our behalf; BUT YOU HAD TO PURCHASE $16 of food before the coupon could be used.


I don't see the value of coupons returning to their glory days.  First, restaurants simply cannot afford to feed people for free or to even pay for part of the meal.  Second, restaurant organizations are helping their clients overcome this type of obstacle (and yes, coupons are an impediment to business).  And third, even TV shows such as Kitchen Nightmares and Restaurant: Impossible are directly telling their clients to dump coupons in general.

Good luck diners!
Good luck restaurateurs!


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