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Coupons are a constant at the grocery store, and plentiful in places like department stores. But restaurants seem to have a love-hate relationship with coupons. Many worry that coupons will cheapen their brand, and attract customers who are more interested in looking for a deal than a good meal.

But a new study warns restaurants not to count coupons out – because many of their potential customers can’t get enough of them.

Valassis has released new survey results that show “coupons and promotions are highly impactful in driving restaurant traffic and customer engagement.”

When choosing a restaurant, 32% of those surveyed said they’re most motivated by “price offers,” followed by 29% who cited coupons and “value menus”.

Fathers are the biggest proponent of saving money when the family goes out to eat. 45% of dads surveyed said coupons are the main motivator in deciding where to dine.

Among the other interesting findings from the survey – 48% said they would be more likely to visit a restaurant on their commute to or from work if they received coupons. 42% said they search the internet or use apps to find restaurant coupons. And 15% said paper coupons received at home are the main motivator for trying a menu item they normally wouldn’t order.

“Consumers expect ready access to deals at home, work and on the go as they look for ways to save money and make dining out affordable,” Valassis chief marketing officer Curtis Tingle said in a statement announcing the survey results. “The right deal, at the right time can activate a consumer who may not have been considering a restaurant otherwise.”

Valassis is encouraging restaurants to offer more coupons and deals, at a time when restaurant visits are declining. The NPD Group reports that there were close to 62 billion visits made to restaurants and other food service outlets last year, which sounds like a lot, but it’s down slightly from the previous year.

NPD’s own recent survey found that the majority of respondents who had cut back on eating out said it was because they were watching their spending, and “restaurant prices are too high”. Infrequent restaurant diners told NPD that regular discounts – especially discounts of their own choosing – could entice them to visit restaurants more.

Yet another recent survey, by Valassis’ soon-to-be corporate cousin RetailMeNot, found that nine out of ten diners have looked for a restaurant deal at least once, with one in three using a digital coupon.

And digital is where NPD says the growth will be, allowing restaurants to better reach potential customers and offer them deals. It predicts that more restaurants will develop loyalty programs, many of them app-based, and that “mobile ordering will grow exponentially.”

Valassis says it all points to would-be diners who are hungry for deals. “If restaurateurs and marketers aren’t tuned in to these types of insights, they are missing out on a sizable opportunity and may be underestimating the importance of engaging consumers with relevant messages,” the company warns.

So if there’s a restaurant you’ve been wanting to visit, but don’t want to pay full price, be on the lookout for coupons. And if there aren’t any – it could end up costing the restaurant more than it costs you.

Photo by Matt McGee

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