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Dining deals are everywhere if you look for them.

When dining out, my husband and I usually take advantage of 1-for-1 deals (through credit cards or membership cards like NTUC and SAFRA) or group buying vouchers sites, such as Groupon SG and Deal. Other sites I’ve purchased from include StreetDeal, Voucherlicious, and SuperDeals by InSing. With these deals, you can save up to 50% off.

For the past 5 years, I’ve used over 200 voucher deals. I’ve even used them when I travel back to the States (Groupon and Living Social are popular there).

Though not every deal is a good value (most, in my opinion, are not). So you have to pay very close attention to the fine print. Some will have compulsory charges; some will limit their dining hours, days, and menu items; and nearly all of them will have expiration dates.

But there are a lot of advantages to buying these dining (or activity) vouchers through group-buying sites. Besides the cost savings, using vouchers has made it easier for me to plan where my family dines on the weekends. I use them to get exposure to new and different cuisines/experiences. It gets me out of our comfort zone, leads us to discover other interesting shops, restaurants, parks, and neighborhoods. But there are things to watch out for. Here are some things to consider when using group-buy vouchers:

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Things to Consider When Using Group-Buy Vouchers

Expiration dates:

Nearly all deals have expiration dates. It is reported that 15% to 20% of purchased vouchers expire without any redemption. So before purchasing one, make sure you have enough time to redeem the voucher. This is particularly important if the merchant restricts the deal’s redemption days to, say, M-Th only. I once bought a voucher that 1000+ other people also bought. And the merchant restricted the redemption to lunch hours (12 to 2pm) on a weekends only. Although the voucher was valid for two months, I had to make a booking weeks in advance (too many vouchers were sold and there was not enough seats). I suspect that other people, particularly those who waited until the last weekend, were not able to redeem their voucher.

Topping Up:

My assumption is that most people who use vouchers are looking for value. But some people use them to be able to make a very expensive item or dining experience attainable and within their budget. My husband and I are the former, and we’re aware that excessively topping up dilutes the value that initially drove us to purchase the deal. We once went to an Indonesian restaurant and the family seated next to us was also using a voucher. The waitress told them that if they top up $40, they can get their special Mother’s Day set meal, which was suited for four persons. They only had three in their party – two adults and a child. They, having already paid $20 for the voucher (for $40 worth of food) happily agreed.

I quickly calculated the cost of each dish (from the menu) they had just agreed to ordering as part of this top-up. The total (of the menu items) was $70. But because they had three people in the party, they were getting short-changed one soup, rice, and drink. It seemed like a bargain, as their bill came out to exactly $40. But factoring in the original cost of the prepaid voucher ($20), their savings was only $10. In other words, they spent $60 for $70 worth of food. If you’re looking for value, do the math. Take your phone out to calculate your tab if you need to, and remember to add what you’ve already prepaid.

Miscellaneous Charges:

Some places automatically tack on charges for appetizers that you did not order. Or for wet wipes that you did not use. I’ve learned that you can politely ask the waiter/waitress if the items are chargeable. And if they say yes, you can ask them to remove the items from your table. By doing so, they cannot charge you for them unless it is stated explicitly somewhere on the voucher or in the restaurant that you must pay for these items.

Merchant is No Longer in Business:

I’ve had one instance where a deal voucher I purchased from Groupon was refunded to me because the company had closed. Groupon has a very good and efficient way of handling these types of issues and will automatically notify and refund you. But what if the voucher site (not the merchant) goes out of business? I’ve had this happen to me as well. I once bought a voucher deal through Outlet.com.sg and that was a nightmare. The company had filed for bankruptcy. Without telling their customers, the owners simply closed shop, disconnected their phone lines, and took down their website leaving all their customers empty-handed and their staff without pay.

Luckily, I was refunded through my credit card company, but that required filing a claim with them and waiting three months. I heard that some people, who paid through direct transfers or through Paypal, had problems getting their refund. For this reason, we stopped buying from the smaller voucher sites. We now mainly purchase vouchers through Groupon and Deal. We also try to use the vouchers long before they expire, partly because we’re afraid a merchant may go out of business or drastically change the terms of use (which they can do without prior notice).

Other Things to Consider:

Remember to factor in travel cost and time when buying these deals. There are days when we have the time and desire to explore farther places (as part of the experience), but we’re aware that the extra travel time and cost dilutes the value. When the public transport fares increase, I suspect that will somewhat change our behaviour.

Using vouchers has definitely allowed us to go to nicer places without spending as much as the person next to us who isn’t using a voucher. But there are times when we just want something familiar, we have a craving for something or someplace specific, and want to go there without having to make a reservation. Often, these are days when we are short on time and just want something already prepared that we can enjoy immediately. For us, that usually means a buffet since my husband and I have very different dietary tastes and needs.

In the next series of articles, I’ll tell you my favourite places for inexpensive buffets ($15 or less!). These places offer great value that is as good as or better than using a group-buying voucher or a 1-for-1 credit card deal.

2 Comments on How to Find the Best Dining Deals using Voucher Sites

  1. The groupbuying sites can get you very good deals, but I don’t like that you always have to rely on the restaurants they have to offer at that exact time, which are sometimes still really expensive even with a groupon offer. They also usually won’t have anything for fast food or chain restaurants, which you can find quite often on http://www.flipit.com/sg. I wish it was as easy in Singapore to find good coupons as it is in countries like Britain or the US. Those Extreme Couponing programs make it look like you can eat for free there.

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