Published Date Written by Natalie LaddGroupon NOW! hasn't hit Portland yet, but when it comes to restaurant-marketing-instant-gratification, it's a win-win proposition indeed. The last-minute, limited-time-only concept is flourishing in major markets; and is as hot as the temperature itself in Philadelphia, where I spent the past few days with Number One, who was on furlough from her job teaching comic book drawing at a summer camp located deep in the swamps of Jersey.
Philly is one of my favorite places on earth right now. Like any real city, there are restaurants besides Denny's that serve serious food at 1 a.m., upscale consignment shops featuring racks full of funky designer stuff with original tags intact, historical sites to visit with websites ending in dot org (instead of dot com) making them national treasures with affordable entry fees. Walking the town is easy due to a well laid-out street grid courtesy of Benjamin Franklin, and true diversity is in everything the city has to offer — culture, food, population make-up, and yes, restaurant marketing.
Every downtown street corner had happy hour pricing more aggressive than the next, food specials for the tightest budgets and live music in clubs where my almost 20-year-old daughter was able to enter, drink a Diet Coke and enjoy. The whirlwind trip was financed via on-line discounted deals for transportation, lodging, entrainment and especially dining through last minute Groupon NOW! offers that were day and meal period specific. We ate a magnificent cheese plate at an elegant place called M Restaurant with a deal we purchased only an hour prior. We had brunch at Brick American Eatery in Society Hill with a deal that was valid for the next day only between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and finally, we bought a dinner-for-two package at the 2012 Zagat exalted, Effie's Greek Restaurant, where we saved over $30 including tip.
Groupon NOW! came on the scene in the company's home city of Chicago in March of 2011, designed to problem solve the true need of how to fill tables on a last minute basis. Unlike regular Groupons, the restaurant can make their own rules, deals, and can cap the number to sell, changing the specifics instantly. The technology is paired with google maps for proximity when looking for a place to dine within the next 24-hours or so, making it ideal for traveling with flexibility, and an open mind. The offers are broken down by a user friendly search engine including city/neighborhood location, meal periods, type of restaurant, and immediate savings. Like most deal vendor partnerships, the restaurant receives 50 percent of the revenue from Groupon in the form of a check.
"The deals are very customizable," says Danny Pustizzi, who works in Groupon's Get Featured department. "Unlike regular Groupon deals which are subject to at least a 50 percent discount requirement and a 'tipping' number of certificates to sell to activate the deal, Groupon NOW! can go as low as 25 percent and can sell as many or as few deals as the merchant chooses. Redemption can take place immediately (or when indicated), whereas other deals have at least a 24-hour waiting period. Like all Groupons, smart phone users can shop and purchase deals, without having to print anything and the restaurants can confirm the purchase instantly."
With all the flexibility Groupon NOW! offers, it is unclear why a restaurant would participate in a traditional deal that does not prompt immediacy, or meet their own specific targeted needs. To date, Groupon NOW! is as close as Boston and Pustizzi admits that while "Groupon is the fastest growing company in the world," the Groupon NOW! program is currently available only in "major markets."
The possibilities are endless, especially for high end establishments who frown on discounting as an image deal breaker. They have to acknowledge that targeting specific days, meal periods and deal percentages down to the exact moment must outweigh the downside of empty tables. Hopefully, it's just a matter of time before Portland can join the big dogs in this next phase of high tech, mutually beneficial restaurant marketing, and we'll all be dashing out the door last minute to eat at the city's finest.
AND ... while I was laying over at Laguardia airport in New York City, a seasoned bartender named Eric shared his particular industry woes, and popped a few common myths about mad money to be made on the fly. "People don't realize most of these places are internationally or corporately owned, and we pay taxes on all tips. People are kind of cheap, like 50 cents on a drink, assuming we make it up in volume. Plus, we usually have to pool, and there are layers of tipping out in this type of bartending."
He continued, "Old guys ask about hookers, old ladies ask about rich business guys, and we only get one or two true regulars. Airport bars have come far with comfortable wine bars and French food menus, but no matter how cool the place looks, it's usually mass produced, small portions and obviously overpriced. Travelers are hostages, ha, we're not allowed to say hostages. It's a fast way to get canned. But it's weird man, everybody likes the vibe of an airport Bloody Mary, even made with a cheap metered shot, before boarding a flight somewhere tropical."
The Down Low: Perhaps I should also mention the Living Social deal I bought for half-price admittance to the National Constitution Center, where the featured exhibit explored Bruce Springsteen's legendary career in, "From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen," the first major exhibition about the pioneering American songwriter. Seeing Number One was great, but this deal was the tastiest of all and I give it five stars.