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April 7, 2010

Industry Standard: Insider info for those who dine out

Coupon etiquette

Great news! Your great Aunt Hortense finally stopped sending you a hand-written $15 check for your birthday. This year, she sent you a $75 coupon to a swanky restaurant you’ve been dying to try. Now what?

Well, of course, first you brag to the person you’re going to take with you to said swanky restaurant. Then you pull up the restaurant’s website and click through to the dinner menu. Mmmm. Pan-roasted pheasant — that sounds delicious. And how about the pork belly appetizer? Sounds good, and if you share a starter, each have an entrée, and both of you get that crazy new cocktail, you’ll still get out of there totally free.

Hold on a minute there, birthday boy or girl. Read the fine print. It probably says something like, “This offer is not good in combination with any other special offer or discount, and does not apply to alcohol or gratuity.” It may also say, “Not good on holidays or other special occasions, or at private functions or charity events.” (Reasonable people: “Well, sure — that makes sense.” Unreasonable person: “This is AWESOME. I’m a ‘Highlands V.I.P.,’ and along with my Louisville Originals card, my AARP discount, my AAA discount, and my ‘Roller Coaster Enthusiasts of the United States’ membership badge, they will owe ME money when we leave!”)

Just consider the restaurant owner or manager. What is their motivation for selling or giving away discounted coupons for use at their place of business? To bring in business they wouldn’t necessarily have gotten otherwise.

Please, use your coupon, but DON’T:

Try to walk for free. Take advantage of the discount, but look at it as a chance to expand your horizons. Don’t limit yourself to the dollar amount of the coupon.

Try to use the coupon for drinks. Most coupons prohibit this explicitly, and giving away alcohol in most cases violates state law. And again, be sure and tip the bartender or server accordingly.

Try not to use your coupon on Derby Eve or Mother’s Day or to offset the cost of your meal during “Dining Out for a Cure” week or some other such charitable event. That would be tacky, as well as problematic for the staff — nobody wants to have to come to your table and explain in hushed tones why they can’t honor your request to apply your coupon during a special holiday menu, or why they can’t let you use all of your myriad discounts at once.

Here’s what you should DO:

Try somewhere new with someone who appreciates an adventure.

Tip your server and/or bartender on the amount you would have spent without the discount. Sorry, but there’s no reason a server should take a cut in pay just because the owner decided to take a hit on food for promotional purposes.

Be gracious to the staff, and of course, expect the same quality of food and service you’d get if paying totally out of pocket for the meal — as long as you don’t break any of the above rules.

Finally, if you receive a “gift card” to a restaurant, rather than a “discount” or “coupon” — go crazy. That’s prepaid money you can normally use for alcohol, tip, etc., because someone already paid for it, dollar-for-dollar.

No offense, Aunt Hortense.

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, and Café Lou Lou. She is currently a teaching assistant at Sullivan University, her alma mater.