Restaurant.com Gift Certificate Review

The Pros and Cons of Using Restaurant.com Gift Certificates

Couple dining out.
••• Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

Have you ever wondered about the great deals that you see at Restaurant.com? For example, the deals that say you can get a restaurant certificate valued at $25 for just $4? Are the gift certificates better than the deals you can get with restaurant coupons or loyalty cards?

The following review is based on my experience of using Restaurant.com to save on dining out.

Getting Started With Restaurant.com

First, I logged onto Restaurant.com, typed in my zip code and hit the search button.

A page was displayed that showed 22 restaurants that had gift certificates available for discounted prices near me. I had the opportunity to read the menus, map out the locations, see a picture of the restaurants, and use the contact information available to call the restaurants directly to make sure that they were still accepting the certificates.

Important "Not So Small" Print

I then began reading the general terms of using the certificates, which are clearly stated under the Customer Help/FAQ link found at the bottom of each page. This and the site's "Terms" page contained helpful information and I suggest everyone read both before making a purchase.

The most important terms that I found addressed using the certificates and problems that might occur when trying to redeem a certificate at the restaurants.

If you are interested in a gift certificate for a specific restaurant, you can only use one gift certificate per party, per month, even if the party is seated at separate tables and/or receives more than one check.

So if you are planning to use the certificates while vacationing or when out of town, keep in mind that you can only use one per month.

Since most of the certificates have a minimum over the amount of the certificate that you must spend, you may want to figure out what you will need to order to meet the minimum you must spend, the menu prices, the tip, and the amount you spent for the certificate in order to ascertain what your actual out-of-pocket expense could be.

In some cases, it could cost you more than you would normally spend if you went to the restaurant without a certificate.

Regarding customer satisfaction, Restaurant.com states that, if for some reason a restaurant does not take the certificate, or if you are unhappy with the restaurant, they will exchange the certificate, but will not refund the money. This is good information to know, especially if you live in a town that is not close to a larger city where the restaurant is located.

The policy states:

  • "If a dining experience doesn’t live up to your expectation, you aren’t satisfied with your choice of restaurant, or you just change your mind, you can exchange your certificate at anytime. No questions asked! You can easily exchange your Restaurant Certificate for a different restaurant on our program with an equivalent value." - Restaurant.com.

Doing the Math for the Best Deals

For the certificates to really pay off, you will want to opt for the more expensive restaurants with terms that include low minimums.

After doing the math, I found certificates limiting me to 10 good restaurant choices. I ended up choosing two restaurants based on the minimum requirements and when I could eat there and pay with the certificates.

All of the information is available on the listing page and should be reviewed before you finalize your payment.

The Purchasing Process

Since it was my first time buying a certificate, I was required to register for an account. Use a real email account because you will receive a verification email after you register. You will also need to have your PayPal or credit card ready because you must enter this information to go any further.

Next came the checkout process, which was very simple. It shows the restaurants selected, the amount of the gift certificates ordered for each one and the price quoted on the listing page, which is before applying the special coupon code.

Adding the Coupon Code

There is a place to put your coupon code (which is likely case sensitive) on the top right-hand corner. Once you enter the coupon code, you will then see the adjusted amounts of the certificates (in my case it was $8 for two) and, if you agree, you select "Proceed to Checkout."

You may then receive other offers to add to your bill, all of which I declined.

Be Prepared to Print

Once your payment has been accepted, you will see a page directing you to print the certificates. I did not know this option would be immediate and I was out of printer ink, so I was afraid that I would somehow lose the certificates since I was unable to print them at that moment. Luckily, because I had an account, I was able to log in later and print the certificates. In addition, many of the certificates can be displayed on your mobile device at the restaurant.

Going to the Restaurants

The first certificate redeemed was for lunch or dinner on Monday through Friday only. The minimum was $35. My husband and I enjoy trying out different appetizers so we ordered three appetizers and two fish entrees. We also had a soft drink each and I had coffee.

The total bill before the tip was $43.60.
Tip: $7.85
Total Bill: $51.45 or $25.73 each

After the certificate, it was $29.45 or $14.73 each.
Add in the price of the certificate of $4 and it came to $16.73 each.

The service was excellent, the food was delicious and the price after the certificate was good. We will definitely go back to the restaurant again.

The second certificate had the same terms as the first one, except we had to tell the restaurant before ordering that we had a Restaurant.com gift certificate. This always concerns me because I am a skeptic and worry that the portions will be smaller or service less than stellar.

At this restaurant, we ordered two appetizers, soup, salad, and two sandwiches.

The total bill before the tip was $58.20
Tip: $10.48
Total bill: $68.68 or $34.34 each

After the certificate, it was $34.34 or $17.17 each.
Add in the price of the certificate of $4 and it comes to $19.17 each.

Depending on where you live, the expense could seem like a good deal or a pricey meal. For us, it seemed reasonable, even if borderline high.

At the second restaurant, the sandwiches were huge and very fresh, as was the gumbo, so we were satisfied and actually left with half of a sandwich each in a to-go box.

The service was very good at both restaurants, and we did not feel like we were treated differently in any way due to the use of the gift certificates.

Bottom Line

My experience in purchasing Restaurant.com certificates was very good, but I did have to do the research mentioned above in order to make it a good deal. My expectations were not overly high, meaning I never expected to get a free meal, but rather a nice discount on a typical dining experience.

Since I did not have a problem, I cannot voice an opinion on how Restaurant.com resolves problems and I have read both favorable and non-favorable comments about it. Most of the negative reviews I have read center more around customers not seeing or reading the minimums and "no refund/exchange only" terms.

I can see how customers could run into problems if they live in smaller towns and find a limited amount of restaurants listed. What can happen in this situation is that a restaurant may decide to stop accepting the gift certificates (which is their right) and there is no other restaurant around that participates. Since there is a "no refund" policy, some customers could be stuck with a worthless certificate unless they plan on visiting a larger city. 

So far I have found the gift certificates to work as I expected and I will definitely check out what is available the next time I see one with a coupon code offering $25 certificates for $5 or less. But everyone is in a different situation and I highly recommend, as with everything, reading the small print, calling the restaurant to see if they are still participating, and only making a purchase if you have a choice of restaurants within a close proximity to where you live.