July 26, 2009

Only my fingers got a vacation

Well, unbelievably, I have hardly posted in a week. It was mostly my fault; forgetting one's laptop power cord and relying on parents' ancient slow PC for blog updates does not lend to frequent posts, nor does coming home and immediately planning for a party to satisfy a challenge for said blog, but the whirlwind week - though it seemed like it was an "off" week - definitely posed lots of new questions and challenges for this couponing girl!

One of the main events of my trip home was going to visit friends and family. I was excited to meet up with one of my good college friends and have her meet my daughter for the first time. She was an excellent sport and agreed that we could meet at a restaurant where I could use a coupon. We settled on a restaurant in a popular shopping center so we could meander and window shop after eating. The restaurant was called "Sweet Bones Alabama," and sadly, it was marginal at best. Not only was the food marginal, but the service wasn't exactly stellar. While our service was ok - not really super attentive - the woman seated next to us was actually ignored until she was walking out the door when the waiter called her back. She needed to get back to work and was seated a full 15 minutes without so much as having her drink order taken. Following the experience, I decided to send an email with some questions and suggestions to the comment email. The following is the email I sent:

Hi there!

A friend and I met at your restaurant on July 22 during lunch, and specifically I chose your restaurant because of a coupon you offered in the online version of Clipper magazine. I have never eaten at your restaurant before, so I thought it would be a nice way to try something new and get a little bit of a discount! Also, I am currently researching the culture of coupons and am only buying things for which I have a coupon! So I do have a couple of questions for you, if you're willing to answer them, and a couple of comments for you about our experience, if you think that will be helpful to you in the future.

First of all, I am wondering what prompted you to offer a coupon in the clipper? Is it because you are still a relatively new business? We used a buy one entree with two drinks, get 50% off lunch entree coupon; was the coupon meant to entice the surrounding business people in for lunch? You are located in a really upscale shopping center, and coupons are generally associated with cost-consciousness and penny-pinching. Did you worry that offering a coupon discounts the image you hope to sell by being in such an upscale area? Or has the state of the economy found you noticing that even in an upscale area people are looking for a bargain?

First of all, I'd like to tell you that - at least for someone like me, who has moved out of the area (I'm now in South Carolina), your coupon in the clipper sealed the deal for me to try your restaurant. However, even though I have family and friends near your business, I would most likely not come back for another meal. I had the brisket plate with fries and macaroni. The cornbread cake was very tasty and the brisket had good flavor, but your sides were just awful. The fries were cold and limp and the macaroni and cheese tasted like wet cardboard. I wish I had something positive to say about it! I realize that you are a bbq restaurant and not a sides restaurant, but I think you know that if you want to get people back for another meal, it's going to take more than a great corn cake and some ok bbq! My friend had the chicken fingers and said they were ok, but she really didn't eat many of them, so I got the feeling from her that they were probably not the best.

And while we had ok service from our waiter, Collin, a woman who was seated in the booth next to our table had to literally get up and start walking out before she was even given the opportunity to give her drink order. Collin was able to convince her to return, but you could tell her opinion of the restaurant had dropped like a rock.

I appreciate you taking the time to read my email, and I hope you will feel comfortable answering my questions. I also hope that my criticisms are seen for their pure intentions, which for you to take our experiences and use them to help yourself!

Thank you so much, and I hope you do remain successful in the future!

I have yet to recieve any kind of response, but maybe they are just thinking really hard about my questions and how to answer them :-)

The experience did raise some questions for me, though, about restaurants and the reasons they put out coupons. One misconception I definitely have had about the project was that we would not get to eat out at any "real" restaurants during the mandatory couponing period. But with some searching online, and our handy dandy fundraising coupon booklet that I rediscovered during a mad cleaning dash, I'd say we've eaten at as much or more than when we don't HAVE to have a coupon. I'm not sure if there are more coupons out now because the economy has driven people to eat at home more and restaurants are dying for the business, or if there have always been plenty out there if you are willing to search for them. Also, I'm surprised by the caliber of restuarants that are now putting out coupons. You expect coupons from Sonic, Hardees, McDonald's, Arby's, etc., but what does this mean for the "sit downs" - Olive Garden, Macaroni Grill, Ruby Tuesday, TGIFriday's - who are now offering them and at a surprisingly regular rate? Does the coupon saddle them with a "discount" persona? Are they hoping to draw in a new crowd or retain their old one?

For example: The husband and I took advantage of a coupon promotion at TGIFriday's for dinner on Friday night. The coupon for buy one entree, get one free is good for as many meals as you choose to use it. That is unheard of! And so I couldn't help but wonder what on earth the goal is with this promotion. Is this a reward for loyal customers or a gimmick to get new ones? And if you are trying to draw in new customers, then wouldn't you try to make your food better? We left there feeling displeased; the menu was too long and difficult to navigate. Their entrees come with only one side, while most other comprable restaurants offer two. I ordered a sirloin - hardly a fine cut of beef, but normally palatable for a good price - that was impossible to eat without slicing into paper thin pieces. My one side - cheddar mashed potatotes, which sounded good on paper - was really just 3 pounds of mashed potatoes with 5 pounds of shredded cheddar melted on top. So my question was simply: What is the point of offering me as many free meals as I could care to eat at your restaurant if you serve me some crap food? And that is the question I will be posing to Fridays in an email before I go to bed tonight!

Posting soon (within 24 hours, promise!) - Challenges accepted at completed: Dinner for 4 and a Party!

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