Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The imperfect gift: when no one wants your voucher



Three years ago my sister and brother-in-law gave my wife and I a $25 voucher to a restaurant website as a gift. Let’s say the website was called something jazzy like, oh I don’t know … restaurant.com (that is the name). 

When I received this gift I thought, cool, we will use this toward a restaurant and then we will eat at that restaurant and I will be happy and satisfied.

I logged on to restaurant.com. “Find a restaurant near you!” Okay, restaurant.com! I will do that. Please find the closest restaurant to zip code 85381.

Restaurant.com said, “Sorry, zero results.”

I expanded my search. How about 10 miles outside of 85381? Can you do that, restaurant.com?

“Nope!”

How about 25 miles? FIFTY  miles?

“You can dine at a hotel café in Scottsdale or a Chinese buffet on the border of Glendale and Phoenix.”

I chose the Chinese buffet. If you know nothing about my wife and me, you know how much we love to drive 45 minutes to eat at a Chinese buffet. My wife is Italian, so the idea of sharing pre-cooked food that is kept warm under a hot lamp with total strangers is very appealing. Are you done with that spoon, hairy man wearing a tank top? Because I’d also like a scoop of that anonymous substance.

I proudly handed the hostess my printed-out voucher, alerting her that we’d be eating on the dime of restaurant.com this lovely, romantic evening. She handed it back to me and said, rather sternly, as if restaurant.com voucher-holders were the lowest form of life, that the buffet price was $8.99 per, and thus we wouldn’t meet our $20 minimum to be eligible to even use our voucher.

My wife was thrilled. Slouched in her slippery booth seat, she refused almost everything the buffet had to offer: sushi, pudding, hot dogs, pockets of some kind. Luckily, since we still had our voucher, we’d be able to do this all over again when the buffet price increased or when our daughter was eligible for adult buffet pricing.

The Chinese buffet voucher rested on a desk in our home for years thereafter, and every time I saw it I shook my fist at my sister and brother-in-law. Last week I received an email from restaurant.com alerting me that my Chinese buffet voucher was no longer valid—oh no!—and would I like to transfer it?—oh yes!

Surely restaurant.com, in the three years since I had last logged on, had incorporated new restaurants of a closer proximity and better reputation into its fold. Only: nope, they had not done that. But they did tighten their restrictions. For example, if I found a place to my liking, I would also need to ensure vouchers to that establishment were available in multiples that equaled $25. This was a gift, by the way.

I settled on a place only 35 minutes away, even though they only offered their vouchers in multiples of $10. Letting $5 hang for all of eternity on restaurant.com was a price I was willing to pay in order to finally see this gift to its sad conclusion.

Coincidentally, it was another Chinese restaurant, although at least of the sit-down variety. At the end of our okay-ish meal, I handed the waitress two $10 restaurant.com vouchers. She immediately handed one back to me and said, rather sternly, as if restaurant.com voucher-holders were the lowest form of life, “ONE PER PARTY.”

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I have one $10 voucher for a somewhat local Chinese restaurant that I am selling for $100. The extra money is for pain and suffering and also so I can buy my sister and brother-in-law a big pile of sand for their upcoming anniversary. Please email or call me if interested. Thank you.

UPDATE: As a result of this column, Restaurant.com reached out to me personally in an effort to resolve these issues, something for which they should be commended. They've been sincere and helpful, and although I still wish they'd loosen their restrictions and open the field to a wider variety of better restaurants, we are now friends.

Note: This column appears in the 3/6 issue of The Glendale Star and the 3/7 issue of the Peoria Times.

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