Should Restaurants Be Able To Restrict Diners To Pricier Groupon Menu?

Getting a great deal using online deal sites that issue vouchers for local businesses can be pretty sweet. But by now, many customers are finding out that there are plenty of trials and tribulations involved when it comes to redeeming deal vouchers, as businesses scramble to keep up with the onslaught coupons.

One couple relays a story of epic ridiculousness on their LiveJournal blog, after dealing with a restaurant that imposed a limited menu on its Groupon customers. While a limited menu is all well and good, actually doubling the prices for someone using a voucher is really not acceptable.

They were expecting some limitations, as avid users of online voucher programs, and decided to call ahead and make sure everything was squared up before dining. The $50 Groupon Now! voucher was for use the day after its purchase, and included a 5-course meal for a party of two for that price. Calling ahead was a good idea, as the hostess explained that there was a separate menu, with a few things excluded from the usual menu. Great! All systems go!

We go to the restaurant tonight and the first thing I tell our hostess is that we’re using a Groupon. She informs us the Groupon is only for yesterday, and that it expired and can’t be used today. I had to pull the original deal and the voucher up on my phone to prove to her that yes, it WAS for today, she called over the front manager who also looked at it, agreed and said fine, we could use it. Again, no biggie.

We also tell our waitress the deal with the Groupon and that we were told we had to order off a special menu. She left the regular menus with us, then hunted down the Groupon-only menus. We started perusing the regular menus just to see what they had to offer. The waitress brings back the Groupon-only menus, takes our drink orders, and leaves. The very firs thing we noticed when we started looking through the Groupon menu was that EVERYTHING, and I mean EVERYTHING, was MORE than double the price on the regular menu! So say the regular menu has pasta faggioli for $14, the Groupon menu had it priced for $32. Never mind we wouldn’t have even known had the waitress not left the regular menus with us. WHAT!

Whatever, the voucher is supposed to cover the entire meal, and it’s not a price thing. We confirmed this with the waitress when she came back with our drinks, and she assured us that yes, the voucher covers everything and she really didn’t know why the prices were on the menu or why they were more expensive. Okay… I’m a little nervous, but I figure she knows what she’s talking about.

Dinner goes great, the food was awesome, and our waitress was a sweetheart; there were maybe 2 tables besides us, so she would sit and talk with us about whatever while we waited for the next course. All in all, a really good experience, and we both agreed we’d definitely come back, Groupon or not.

And then the bill came. The front-end manager brought it out to us instead of our waitress, dropped it and said someone would be back shortly. I said something about how we had a Groupon, and he yelled back that the waitress would handle that as he was walking away. Okay.. so we open the bill, and low and behold, we’re being charged DOUBLE THE PRICE OF THE REGULAR MENU for our ENTIRE meal, $156!, when it was supposed to be covered by the Groupon! Our waitress comes back and we explain the situation, and she apologized profusely and went to find the front-end manager again. It took 15 minutes for him to finally make it out front, and which point he explained that the Groupon was for $50 off of our meal, not for the entire meal. I pull up the voucher and again show him what the terms of the deal are, and he literally waves his hands like he’s brushing me off and says, no, Groupon is wrong, this is what the deal is. Okay, so wait, I paid $50 for $50 in credit, and you’re charging me TWICE what you would charge me if I DIDN’T have a Groupon? He says well, we have to cover our expenses, we can’t just give away free food to anyone with a Groupon. Uh, yes you can, because that’s what your Groupon says. And he just walks away again, no apology, no resolution, just.. whatever, you’re on your own.

Our waitress comes back and asks if everything’s settled, and obviously, it’s not. My husband gets this bright idea that if we nix the Groupon voucher, we should hypothetically be charged the regular price for our meal ($78) and we’ll just get a refund from Groupon later. The waitress, who already has bent over backwards trying to make this work for us, agrees that this makes sense, and immediately goes to fix our bill. Magically, the front-end manager suddenly appears again and is now irate that we’ve apparently “worked the system.” My husband lied and said that the Groupon thing was a mistake – it actually did expire yesterday, so we can’t even give it to you to use it, and it was our fault, sorry for causing so much trouble, we just want to pay the regular price and be gone. The waitress backed him up, said she read it herself, she tried to enter it in the computer and it came back expired, etc (god bless her). After a few minutes of back-and-forth with the manager, he finally relents that since we don’t actually have a Groupon, it would be fine for us to pay “regular price” if we don’t apply the Groupon to our bill and that’s that. Thankfully, we had enough cash on us, so we pay our bill with cash just in case someone tries to get creative and add more charges to our card, leave the waitress a huge tip and a thank-you note for jumping in unprompted and essentially lying to her boss for us, and go out to our car to go home.

So there are multiple levels of shenanigans going on here. The couple called Groupon and got their money refunded back to their credit card, and found out there was already another complaint against the restaurant. Perhaps there should be a formal Groupon rule against raising prices for Groupon customers — after all, it is supposed to be a deal.

Bad Service [LiveJournal]