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Many of us are creatures of habit – we buy the same products while grocery shopping, and visit the same restaurants when we go out to eat. But coupons can change our habits at the grocery store. So wouldn’t you think the same would be true when it comes to eating out?

A new survey of restaurant patrons finds they’re more likely to switch up their routines, if there are deals involved.

In a new publication entitled “Tempting the Dynamic Restaurant Customer”, Valassis found that “although the majority of consumers usually visit the same restaurant, diners are still willing to switch destinations based on promotions and coupons.”

30% of fast food and casual restaurant diners are willing to go somewhere else if enticed by a promotion or coupon, while 25% of fast casual and pizzeria patrons say the same. Only about 10% of all diners say they would switch to a restaurant that offers the lowest prices – suggesting that, when it comes to eating out, coupons and deals trump everyday low prices. “A coupon-driven consumer is different from a low price-driven consumer,” Valassis notes.

Buy-one-get-one-free coupons and offers are among the most popular types of discounts, with more than half saying BOGOs would get them in the door at either a favorite or a new restaurant. And a majority says they prefer to get these types of offers in the mail, instead of having to go look for them.

Valassis’ findings correspond with those of a recent research study published in the Journal of Foodservice Business Research. In “The Effectiveness of Coupons on the Restaurant Consumers’ Purchase Decision,” author Donetta Cummings Poisson found that coupons were more likely to prompt people to visit a new restaurant than a favorite one, and that most people preferred to get offers through the mail, instead of “exert(ing) the energy necessary to hunt out coupons.”

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“Oddly,” Poisson writes, “consumers want their coupons, but the majority of the respondents are not willing to take the time to clip them.”

Many restaurants have had a love-hate relationship with coupons. The CEO of Fiesta Restaurant Group, owner of the Latin American-inspired Pollo Tropical and Taco Cabana chains, became the latest restaurateur to announce the end of coupons and discounts last year. “I don’t like discounting,” Richard Stockinger declared. So “we’re stopping the coupons. I don’t believe in a coupon if you offer a high-value product.”

That’s a phenomenon of which Poisson takes note. “Couponing has been characterized as a conundrum, especially in the eyes of restaurant industry professionals,” she writes. “Some restaurant chains tried to break away from extreme discounting tactics”, since coupons and promotions cut into profits and can condition consumers to look for discounts. And couponing “can create a vicious cycle while the consumer’s purchase decision remains “price (coupon) driven” instead of “brand driven”.

But a third recent report says the tide may be turning. According to the NPD Group, restaurant visits based on a deal offer grew for the third consecutive year last year, up 2% to 25%. So restaurants that refuse to offer deals, do so at their peril. “It’s clear that major restaurant chain operators are pulling out all of the stops to get consumers to visit this year,” NPC restaurant industry analyst Bonnie Riggs said. “They’re doing all of the things that historically have caught the attention of consumers and driven traffic and they’re hoping that it works again this year.”

Coupons and promotions may not always get diners through the doors, but restaurant goers at least want to have that option. “Even though consumers may not always utilize coupons, consumers want coupons to be available for their use,” Poisson finds. “There is a belief among consumers that coupons can save them money and they do not want to be deprived of that practice.”

So keep your eye on your mailbox. If restaurants take these researchers’ advice – some deals on a good meal could be coming your way any time now.

Photo by Matt McGee

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