Once I started looking at the restaurant voucher issue in detail I realised that it is much bigger than I first thought. In this post I am going to focus on the behaviour of restaurants offering discount vouchers to customers via third party voucher publishers.
Restaurant vouchers are a scam. Their offer of a supposedly quality experience at a discount price targets customers driven by greed and price, not those driven by quality. The result is that you get what you pay for because restaurants change what they offer for voucher customers to reduce the loss they make from voucher prices.
Here are some of the strategies employed by unscrupulous Melbourne restaurants to cheat naive customers expecting a bargain from their vouchers.
Scam 1 – charge higher prices for the same food
This restaurant has a separate menu with higher prices than the normal menu for the same dishes. You pay more with a discount voucher, which effectively undermines the bargain customers expect to receive. When you make a booking you have to tell them it is with a voucher, and they try to keep the different prices a secret from customers.
Scam 2 – charge the same price for food of lesser quality
This restaurant lesser quality dishes than on the normal menu for the same price. They must be very naive if they think that customers won’t notice. The power of social recommendations mean that customers can quickly and easily share their experiences and warn others of the experience they are likely to have.
Scam 3 – make it difficult to get a refund
Voucher providers make it difficult to get refunds, apparently in breach of the legal rights of consumers. While restaurants can’t be responsible for the actions of voucher companies, they should be aware of their broader business behaviour and evaluate whether they are appropriate business partners. Restaurants are partially complicit in ripping off consumers who buy vouchers, cannot use them through no fault of their own then find it difficult to get refunds.
Scam 4 – close during the voucher offer period
This is the situation that L’Angolo onNicholson St was an example of. It closed while vouchers for it were still valid, meaning that customers had to pursue refunds. There seems to be a repeated scenario where a business on the verge of collapsing tries to revive itself by buying lots of new customers via discounted voucher offers. But the cost of this hastens their financial collapse and they shut down immediately during the voucher period.
Scam 5 - limiting the value of the offer by going slow
If the offer is all you can eat then you expect to leave full and satisfied. But if the restaurant provides slow inefficient service, perhaps deliberately, then you can’t get what you thought you paid for.
Scam 6 – making it difficult to get a booking
If a restaurant offers vouchers, that signals to customers that the restaurant wants customers. So why then do some of them make it difficult or impossible to make a booking with a voucher? Perhaps because they’re hopeless at managing their business and become overwhelmed by the sudden demand, which leads to some of the problems listed above. In one instance, a pizza restaurant supposedly ran out of cheese.
Scam 7 – treat voucher customers badly so they won’t return
Vouchers ars supposedly a marketing tool designed to increase patronage. So why are so many voucher customers being treated so badly? Because many clueless restaurant managers or owners are only realising the economic disaster that vouchers represent once they experience the flood of demand and can’t cope. They have to reject the customers they’ve just tried so hard to acquire.
If you’ve been cheated by restaurants offering vouchers please make your comments public and make a complaint to Consumer Affairs Victoria.