Several new services have started to appear that offer discounts at restaurants and sometimes other businesses without requiring you to pay up-front or wait for a reputable company to list an offer. By taking advantage of these specials, you could save some serious money on your next trip.
The old stalwarts in this field (and clearly “old” is a relative term) include Groupon, Tippr, and LivingSocial, which I find incredibly annoying. After a year or so of good deals when they first started, it seems that most of the decent businesses have decided they’re more costly than the new customers they bring in. What’s left are dubious offers for half-priced Lasik, yoga lessons, photo packages, and a bunch of other spam delivered every single day. Plus, when good deals do appear I often find myself paying $20-40 up front and then forgetting about my coupons until a week before they expire.
I know a few friends use services like YipIt to get a single daily listing of all the different Groupon-like offers. Sometimes they’ll sign up a few weeks in advance of a vacation so they can also follow offers in the city they’re about to visit. This doesn’t really solve the spam issue except by reducing the volume, and it certainly isn’t a viable option for those of us who are traveling every other week (or more).
Pirq, a service I was introduce to a month ago, is a local Seattle company that has also expanded to the San Francisco Bay Area. The business model is almost entirely focused on restaurants and other food establishments, and it is so simple I’m surprised it works. I know, it’s got a limited roll-out right now, but other services like ScoutMob have a larger presence and I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes the new trend in online coupons. Even the existing players like Groupon are trying to offer day-of deals, but I doubt those will work because I’ve already tuned out everything Groupon related–they lost their chance.
So today I’m going to talk about Pirq. Maybe it’s not the greatest app out there, and maybe it doesn’t work in your area (so check out ScoutMob), but it has some of my favorite restaurants in Seattle.
Step 1: Open the app on your phone and find a business
Several of my favorite restaurants are on Pirq, including Eva and Taste of India. A few others, like Café on the Ave, aren’t big wins for me but aren’t bad either. I have a horrible time finding anything decent on the usual airline or hotel dining programs in Seattle, nor do most of the better, local restaurants participate with OpenTable. Pirq is one of the first opportunities I’ve had to get a discount at places I want to eat. Looking at ScoutMob, it seems the deals change a bit day-to-day, but maybe it’s my imagination. I like that Pirq almost always has the same restaurants.
Step 2: See what discounts and how many are still available
Usually discounts are offered for 20%, 30%, 40%, or 50% off your bill. I rarely see 40-50% offers, but often there are two to five offers at the 20% and 30% levels. Typically the greatest discount will be for a less popular time, like a late lunch (2-4 PM) or dinner (after 8 PM).
Step 3: Reserve your offer
You don’t have to wait until you reach the restaurant or do anything else to commit yourself to dining at that establishment. But there are a limited number of coupons for each discount level and time. You can reserve a coupon for free and pull it up once you actually arrive, if you actually decide to go dine there. I used it recently to reserve a 30% discount after 8 PM at Eva when I knew Megan and I would be working late, then changed it to a 20% discount before 8 PM when we finished a bit early. Now late nights mean a great seasonal meal, not a random scramble for pizza. (We still love you, Flying Squirrel!)
Step 4: Redeem your offer
Pirq is fairly specific that you must show the coupon before you begin dining. Groupon says this, too, but I’ve never had an issue. I’m less likely to test waiting until the check arrives with Pirq because the coupons are time-sensitive and my coupon might expire if the meal extends beyond the eligible period. It was pretty simple: I pressed “redeem,” a barcode appeared, and the server took my phone for a minute to scan it at the register. I imagine at a coffee shop you would be able to keep your phone in your possession.
How is this any different from Groupon?
Unlike Groupon and the other social coupon giants, you don’t have to pay in advance for the discount. The coupon has to be redeemed the day-of anyway. You could conceivably step off the plane and reserve a coupon for a dinner that evening–or even take care of this at home before you depart. Since the businesses that offer these discounts generally don’t change from day-to-day (they just have a limited number of coupons) you don’t have to worry about watching the service like a hawk by signing up for another city’s daily deals a few weeks in advance.
Finally, the discount is also applied to your entire bill, so it’s a win for the restaurant and for you. If I pay $10 for a $20 Groupon and spend $70 on dinner, a $10 discount doesn’t seem like much, and the restaurant only got $5 out of the deal. If I have a 20% Pirq coupon, then I’m saving $14 and there’s never any commitment until I actually show up to eat. My guess is the restaurant ends up losing a little more on each sale, but it also limits its liability. Lots of times I have visited restaurants immediately after a Groupon was offered or immediately before it expires. The place will be packed with customers paying half-price, creating a potential loss and also scaring away the customers who would otherwise pay in full.
The New York Times recently published an article on related systems like Savored (currently only in New York City) that link these discounts to actual reservations at a restaurant. Fixed costs for staff, rent, and utilities mean that you need to be able to attract (and seat) enough customers during the rush to make up for slow periods. Savored requires you to make a reservation during a specific time, as a way for the restaurant to fill up tables that would normally be empty. Some restaurants have found that offering these discount windows have been so successful that they no longer have to provide cheaper pre-theater prix fixe menus. I like that Pirq and ScoutMob just provide a discount without the seeming commitment of a reservation at the restaurant, but both approaches have merit.
So, my advice is to try out Pirq, ScoutMob, Savored, and some of their similar competitors the next time you visit a new city. Pair it with Yelp to figure out which businesses are actually quality establishements, and then use the coupons to get a great discount on your next meal!