Restaurant coupons are everywhere, and the deals are awesome—$50 for a $100 dinner at Cantinetta (where I recently waited over an hour for a table on a Wednesday night), two for one burgers at the Counter. But as the economy recovers, a study indicates, restaurants are likely to phase out the coupons and other promotions they’ve used to fill tables during the slump.
Because it’s part of my job to talk to restaurauteurs about new projects, my friends and family always ask me how it’s possible to open a restaurant in this economy. I don’t have personal experience, so I by no means mean to speak for chefs and restaurant owners, but I have noticed that nearly all of the new projects (and many existent restos who have rehauled their menus and brought down prices) take into account new dining habits—small plates instead of entrees, wines by the glass instead of by the bottle. (Anthony Anton, president of the Washington Restaurant Association, told me that the wine-drinking change was one of the first things fine-dining restaurants noticed when the economy hit the skids.)
And then there are incentives like happy hour and coupons. These have been crucial during the recession, it seems to me, because they mitigate the freak-out factor. When you don’t know if you’ll have a job tomorrow, it’s hard to justify going out to a nice meal, or, if you do, ordering appetizers and dessert along with your main. What the coupons do is make you feel 1. that you’re getting a bargain (the recession may have changed consumer habits, but it hasn’t done a lot to change consumer culture, right?) and 2. that you’re safe from a giant tab at the end of the meal. Heck, you already paid your $50, might as well go out and enjoy yourself.
Coupons may not have been easy on restaurant profits, and I don’t want to think about how people are tipping on these cheapie tabs. But if they help restaurants turn over tables, that’s probably a very good thing in the long run.