The Power of the “Groupon”

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I use the term Groupon rather loosely.

In fact, I use it to describe all dining deals that we buy and use, just like one calls a tissue Kleenex, whether it is that brand or not. So my apologies in advance to all of these Deal Sites that are just as worthy.

Not sure what a Groupon is?

Well, where have you been?! These are deals posted daily that allow you to get half-price or more off of gift certificates to restaurants, salons, gyms, spas, services, etc. For example, restaurant XYZ may have an offer where you can buy a $50 gift certificate to their restaurant for only $25. And boy do these gift certificates hold a ton of power!

What’s the catch? Well, you generally can’t combine them with any other offers, specials or promotions. However, the purpose is to bring you into their restaurant by a specific date. {The promotional value almost always has an expiration date, although the value that you paid for the certificate never expires.}

We love these deals! And while I’ve read some arguments on how they can do more harm than good for businesses, I think it is up to the restaurant to decide where they want to spend their advertising dollars. Because that is what the deal truly is – advertising. People become more aware of these businesses whether they buy the deal or not. For example, I received an email announcing a deal for the Amsterdam Bar and Hall. However, I forgot about it after I got busy doing something else and never decided to buy it. Still, I had never heard of this new establishment before and it intrigued me. So the next time we were in downtown St. Paul, we decided to check it out. And we did. The advertising worked.

That’s Power #1 of the Groupon: Introducing me to new places.

Power #2: Getting me there sooner than later. There are several establishments on our restaurant bucket list that we’d really like to try soon. However, our list of Groupons is extensive and we want to use those up before they expire. Sorry, La Belle Vie, while we do have a grand desire to try you out,  you are on the back burner for now. By buying a Groupon, I’ve essentially already invested in a meal there and I’ve committed to them for redemption!

Power #3: Exposing me to different neighborhoods. Living in a south of the river suburb of the Twin Cities makes it easy to frequent the same nearby places when we want to grab a quick bite. But a Groupon often draws us to other parts of the Twin Cities which we may have never visited otherwise. We are quite the fans of Northeast Minneapolis now! We even have a few places in St. Paul where we’ve become “regulars”.

Do you really buy that many of these, Carrie?

And how do you keep track of them all?

Why, yes. Yes, we do. We have over 30 pending right now. And yes, we use them all before they expire. I do want to offer you some key tips on how to decide which ones to buy {and when to pass}, how to organize and use them before the  promotional period expires and how to use them to splurge a little. {The following tips refer specifically to dining deals, but you can use similar techniques for spa, fitness, household and other deals as well.}

There are so many! Which ones do I buy?

First, sign up to receive the daily deals in your inbox. A list of deal sites in the Twin Cities can be found here. You can set up a “junk” email address, if you’d like. I have an email address that I use when I sign up for newsletters, deals, offers, and when I buy something online. That way, they don’t clutter my regular inbox. However, I do check this email once or twice a day.

If the deal appeals to you, click on it and study the following:

  • Location – Would you be willing to drive to this location?
  • Expiration Date – Check your calendar. Do you have time to get to this location before the expiration date?
  • Menu – Go to the restaurant’s website. Check out the menu. Does anything appeal to you? If not, there is no reason to buy it! A deal has no value if it’s not something you’ll use. {For example, I won’t buy deals from Italian restaurants that only offer spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parmesan and fettucine alfredo. They don’t impress me.}
  • Have you been there before? If not, just buy ONE deal. Nothing’s worse than finding out that a place wasn’t as you had expected and then being stuck with another gift certificate to use there. On the flip side, ff you’ve been there and love the place, only buy as many as you can fit into your schedule before the expiration date.
  • Look at the fine print and exclusions:
    • Most deals state that you can’t use them in conjunction with any other offer or promotion. That’s normal and makes sense for the restaurant’s benefit. However, if you love to go to a place for their happy hour and aren’t excited about anything else on their regular menu, the deal may not be worth it to you.
    • Does the deal exclude alcohol or particular dishes? Some do. When a $50 gift certificate is good for food only, it’s sometimes hard to get to that amount when it’s just my husband and me. To be sure, go back to the menu and check the pricing to make sure you’d be able to spend enough to cover the gift certificate.
    • Some deals are only good Sunday through Thursday. If you can’t get to the other side of town on a weeknight, don’t buy it!
    • Check when the restaurant is open. Sundays and Mondays are the days of the week many restaurants are closed. Make sure that the restaurant is open on the day and during the hours you are planning to visit. Keep in mind that some restaurants serve only brunch on Sundays, too.
    • Is there a minimum purchase? While I don’t see this much with many of the daily deals such as Groupon or Living Social, it is quite common on Restaurant.com. For example, you might need to spend $35 or $50 in order to use your $25 gift certificate. Again, analyze the menu.

Keep your deals organized!

Some people keep track of their deals on their phone with apps for each deal site. I need all of my Groupons in one place. We print out each deal as soon as they become available and put them in an accordion file:

Deals filed by month to use the ones expiring first!

We keep our file o’ deals locked in my car. That way, if for some reason we don’t do our homework and we find a place is closed {we learned this the hard way!} or we want to pop over somewhere else, we can just thumb through our trusty accordion file to see what we have available.

Use your deals before they expire!  {They aren’t deals otherwise.}

  • I keep a spreadsheet. Yes, I’m geeky like that. My spreadsheet includes the name, location, dollar amount, exclusions and expiration date. I keep them sorted by expiration date. However, if I want to use one in a particular city, I can sort that way, too.
  • Use those that expire soonest first. {Both the spreadsheet and file accordion file help with this!}
  • Schedule them on your calendar! We like to put the date we’d tentatively like to visit, but include the expiration date in case we need to change. Some prefer instead to put a reminder on the calendar about a month or two before they are about to expire. Again, remember to watch for holidays when the deal may not be valid and days that the restaurant may not be open.

There are some fun ways to use your dining deals!

  • Dining deals can make your night out seem much less expensive, especially when giving a new place a try.
  • If you normally would order a sandwich, you might want to use your deal to order some higher priced options such as steak or seafood.
  • You could use it to add an appetizer or try a more expensive bottle of wine. My sweet spot for restaurant wines is between $30 – $45. However, when my friend Ceci and I dined at Solera, we got a $65 bottle of Spanish wine when our server’s description had us drooling. We had a $25 gift certificate and since we are fellow wine lovers, splurged in the right place. We found one of our favorite restaurant wines ever! That bottle and that night out is unforgettable.

And of course, always tip on the pre-discounted total of your bill. Your server isn’t working any less for you and gratuity is not included. We try to leave our tips in cash whenever possible.

Dining deals can be worth it if you devise a system for buying and organizing them. Organization is key. In fact, we have at least two Groupons per week “scheduled” in our calendar through the end of July. I’m a geek. I know. But it’s fun. And it works.

What do you love about Groupons and other dining deals?

How do you use them?

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