I wrote a blog about dining out at Marco Pierre White’s restaurant a while ago using a Living Social voucher. It was, by and large, an enjoyable experience. My quibbles related to portion size more than anything else, which appeared to be measly on certain courses. The food was fabulously presented and delicious, it just appeared like our starter had been ‘split’ between the two of us instead of having one each. At the time I wondered whether it was worth taking the savings from buying an offer online or paying full price to experience the best MPW had to offer.
In the Canny Food house we’ve had similar conversations in relation to the bi-annual Newcastle Restaurant Weeks that operate. I even wrote a post about it earlier this year. Mr. Canny falls firmly in the camp that he’d rather pay full price and have the best they can offer, especially if trying out somewhere new. His opinion is that while 2 courses for £10 or £15 is great, you don’t get the best service or food they would normally serve up. In certain respects I agree with him, especially based on some of the experiences we’ve had. In August we visited Caffe Vivo during said week, a restaurant that is consistently good. There were a couple of dud notes during the meal and we felt rushed because of the turn-round on tables. It wouldn’t put me off returning again, I’d just wait until an evening where there isn’t a promotion like that running.
We’re trying to be cautious with money having recently moved into a new home and a baby on the way. This means I’ve been eyeing voucher deals when I receive the early morning inbox onslaught. The same restaurants crop up time and again, which suggests they struggle without promotions to get bums on seats. Not an encouraging sign, even with money off. Is that because their service is lacking, or an issue with the menu? Places like Byron have queues out of the door, so it’s nothing to do with the folk of Newcastle cutting back expenditure on eating out.
Wanting to try more in my local area I purchased a voucher from Living Social for Vivere, an Italian eatery in Low Fell a friend recommended to me. Having seen her frequent check-ins I knew she was a big fan anyway, and when she told me it was authentically Italian I felt assured that we’d get decent pizzas and pasta, if nothing else. At £17.50 for a starter and a main for two seemed like a reasonable punt, especially for a midweek meal.
Following the instructions, I called ahead to make my booking and mentioned the voucher. When we arrived there were two staff front of house who seemed flusterered. I wouldn’t have said the restaurant was busy, but not knowing how many staff they usually have to cover the tables they may have been understaffed for whatever reason. These things do happened. Is it the fault of those who’ve booked and are paying customers though? No.
We were shown to our table and given the menu. The voucher said valid for starters up to £5.95. Mr. Canny wasn’t keen on any of the options in this price bracket, unfortunately. He wanted the King Prawns (pre-veganism, btw) which were slightly more at £7.95, and asked if he could pay an additional charge, which was refused. He opted for the Soup of the Day begrudgingly. He said it was ok, but how wrong could you go with soup anyway? I ordered their Arancini, which were actually very good.
Mains were more straight forward, and we were allowed to chose any pizza or pasta we wanted. He went for the Calzone, which was filled with spicy sausage, and I ordered Pizza Pollo. The pizzas were both a decent size and quality. By this point the atmosphere was slightly better, although it took an age to settle the bill for our drinks. Looking at the special offers on the wall and seeing other customers tucking into canny looking steaks I knew we’d not had the best of Vivere, but because of the attitude towards us I’m unsure I want to take another chance. There are many eateries in Low Fell vying for our patronage like Fell’s Kitchen and Angeethi, both of which I’ve heard great things about. And I’m not the only one to have complained about the experience in that particular restaurant when dealing with Living Social vouchers (see TripAdvisor here).
This begs the question; why do restaurants subscribe to these offers if they’re such a poisoned chalice? Are customers to blame for having high expectations when they’ve bought a bargain? Bearing in mind Vivere offer an Early Evening menu at £7 per person we were by no means the cheapest customers they’d had that night. With that sort of knowledge we’d have probably not bothered with the voucher and just walked in off the street. Should offer customers be on the receiving end of a different attitude to someone ordering Steak and Barolo, for example? I think not.
We have far too much choice these days, and with the wonders of Social Media someone’s bad experience could make or break a restaurant already struggling for customers. Witnessing the attitude of Viva Brazil recently towards a disgruntled customer after my own lukewarm experience goes to show that if you don’t pay attention to criticism you may end up confined to a world of offers and vouchers to keep the restaurant afloat. Such a shame. For us as consumers there is often the fine print to read through and caveats which make what appears to be a bargain not so much in the cold light of day. With short redemption windows and ‘limited availability’ it might be better to buy loved ones gift vouchers this Christmas instead.
Thanks for reading,