The old adage says, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Whoever said this wasn’t looking hard enough. Today it seems every restaurant is offering some sort of deal. Prices are being slashed. “Buy one get one free” is a growing part of the lexicon. Restaurants that previously never would have thought of discounting their food are now spending money to advertise specials. I went into the restaurant I began my career at the other day and found prices lower than when I worked there fifteen years ago.

As servers this trend is particularly disturbing. We typically get tipped a percentage of the bill. Twenty percent of free is hardly a reward for great service. This compounds the difficulties of serving. Discounts may fill the seats, but often translate to more work and less money for servers.

People expect more for their money and restaurants that fail to give it to them will pay the consequences. Restaurant owners invest too much into their dream to let pride take it away. They agree to play ball and offer the discounts the consumers demand. I do not fault them. There is not anyone to blame for this situation (except banks, but that is different blog) and we are all trying to survive.

Servers cannot control this situation, but they can attempt to make the best of it. Here are a few tips for surviving the flood of coupons and discounts.

Do Not Fight It: There is no doubt about it coupons stink for servers. The good news is the guest is at your table. You can give them great service and get every dollar you can in a tip or you can fight them. Rolling your eyes, giving sub par service, and developing an attitude will only reduce your already reduced tip. Letting the discount affect your performance only increases the problem and puts your job in jeopardy. Your goal has to be to get them back in the door next time without the coupon. This economy will turn around. When it does they will remember your service more than the deal they got. Your service has to make them want to come back.

Sell, Sell, Sell: There are two types of discounts. If you are dealing with a dollar discount (buy one, get one free, certain amount off, half price, etc), try selling more expensive items. These items now have greater value perception in the eyes of a guest and will help save your per person check average. If you have deals on certain items, sell away from them. A masterful pitch might still sway guest who came into the restaurant for a deal to higher quality items. This is also a great time to be selling wine and premium liquors. People who are saving money on food are more likely to spend money on more expensive drinks.

Before and After Checks: This is a move I started using years ago. I have lost out on thousands of dollars over the years by not doing it sooner. Instead of just dropping the discounted check, drop two checks. I will print two copies when I go to get a discount done by my manager. I will hold on to one pre-discount check. Then when I go to give the checks to the table I will put the discounted check on top of the other in the presenter. I will use the following line: “There are two copies of the check in here, one before and after discount.” This does two things. First, it shows the guest how much they saved. Second, it reminds them that the original check was much higher. This is often enough to remind them that it is considerate to tip on the original amount. It does not work every time, but still well worth the extra step.

This downturn like every other will end. When it does the guest is going to return for service. Guests who come solely for a deal will not remain after the deal is gone. Your job as a server is to provide the service that will make them come back. In the meantime you can either maximize the opportunity you have to make money or fight your guests. That is a fight a server seldom wins.

Sorry, Not My Table put out a rather hilarious tale of a dining experience he had with friends. When a guest brings in a cake to be presented to the table as a surprise, I always get nervous. This is the sort of nightmare scenario that scares me.

Also, the Fat City Plog came out with an interesting article on “food crushes.” I have a few myself. The longest running has to be the bruschetta at The Drop in KC. What is yours?

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