Is $25 worth that much?

Explain this to me if you can. Because I’m simply not getting it.

Julie (the wife) is a master purveyor of restaurants.com* and tonight, with nothing on tap for dinner, we decided to cash in one of our $25 gift certificates.

*In case you don’t know, here’s what restaurants.com provides to you. You spend $10 to get a $25 restaurant gift certificate. And that’s pretty much it. No strings attached. You give them $10 and they give you a $25 gift certificate. Sometimes, you can pay $6 for $25. And sometimes – really, really special times – you can pay $2 for $25. Julie is like a bloodhound for those $2 deals.

So, we drive over to Cumin, an eclectic** Indian restaurant in East Hyde Park, and take in a nice dinner. The waitress is about to drop off the bill, we give her the $25 certificate, and she disappears. We assume she’s dropping the price on the bill by $25 and will soon return. We were wrong.

**Their description, not mine.

The owner walks over, drops the bill and the certificate on the table, and says he can’t honor it. We say, Huh.

“I stopped doing business with them four months ago. We don’t honor these on weekends.”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t say that on the certificate***.”

***Almost all of the certificates have some kind of exception. Alcohol isn’t included. Or you must spend at least $35. Or Saturdays are excluded. Cumin didn’t say anything about excluding weekends.

“Yes, I know. That’s why I stopped doing business with that company.”

“Right, we bought this certificate, and now, you’re not going to honor it?”

“I don’t do business with them any more. Listen, you come back during the week – Monday through Thursday – and you can be my guest. But tonight, I cannot. You call them and get them to send you another certificate.”

We argued for a little while – and by we, I mean Julie – but he wouldn’t budge. The truth is: we’ve been to the restaurant once before. It was fine, but we never returned (obviously, we didn’t love it the first time. For that matter, we definitely didn’t love it the second time). We went back tonight, simply because we had the gift certificate. Otherwise, we might never have eaten there again.

Anyway, we grumbled for a bit, paid the tab, filled in the tip and left.

We left pissed off.

And this is what I don’t understand.

The owner of the restaurant doesn’t know who most of his customers are. He doesn’t know how many Twitter followers they have. He doesn’t know how many Facebook friends they have. He doesn’t know that if he pisses off one of them enough that he/she will make a special effort to get on a blog or another restaurant Web site and rip Cumin to shreds. He doesn’t know if his customer is doing an interview Sunday morning on a 50,000 watt radio station where he/she could mention that he/she saw a rat run through the restaurant (there wasn’t, but who’s to stop that person from saying so anyway?). You know how many people could hear/read all that? Potentially, thousands.

But the owner doesn’t think about that. So, he sends us – his paying customers – away from his restaurant pissed. The meal was good, the decor and atmosphere were nice, the server was efficient and worked hard to please us, and it was a pleasant evening. But the ending left a sour taste in our mouth.

Now, think about this: obviously, this guy didn’t want to comp us $25, even though we fulfilled our end of the bargain. Whether it’s principle or whether the guy is having money problems or whether he failed his customer relations class. Whatever. He doesn’t want to take $25 off the meal? Fine. But why doesn’t he offer a post-dinner drink? Why not offer desert? If he does that, we accept and we walk out a little less perturbed. We’re not completely happy, but we’re thinking, ‘Hey, the guy made an effort, and you have to give him credit for that. He tried, in some small way, to make it right.” Instead, we’re thinking, “This son of a bitch did absolutely nothing. Why in the hell should we ever go back.”

And we’re pissed.

Me, I’ve got about 750 Twitter followers, about 550 Facebook friends, and I’m going to be on a long-ranging sports talk radio show a few hours before the Bengals play a football game that has, let’s say, a little bit of interest. Let’s say, if I wanted to seek my revenge, 10,000 people hypothetically could hear or read my rant about Cumin. Maybe 1,000 people – 10 percent – say, “You know what? I don’t like what I’m hearing. I’m not going to spend my money there either.” Say, those 1,000 people would have brought somebody else and spent $90 for dinner. That’s $90,000 Cumin is potentially losing because of what I write or say. You know how he could have avoided it? Honoring the gift certificate.

Or giving us a $5 dessert.

Instead, I’m sitting here writing this rant, more pissed by the moment. And I ask: 1) does this guy understand the modern world and the megaphone the Internet provides? 2) And will I go back to Cumin*****?

The answers: 1) Apparently not. 2) No.

*****This does not count the return visit we’ll make during a weekday so we can actually use the gift certificate.

He’s just lucky I’m not writing about this.

P.S. Just after my wife read this post, she got an e-mail from opentable.com that asked her to review the meal she just had at Cumin. My bet? It ain’t going to be good.

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3 responses to “Is $25 worth that much?

  1. Hi Josh:

    Sorry to hear about your bad experience. Glad to hear that these things happen outside of Israel too. 🙂

    We’ve had enough of this type of experience to know to ask ahead of time if they honor the certificate. However, this is what they call in Hebrew slang, a “‘kit bag’ question.” I won’t go into the derivation which goes through the Israeli army back to the military equipment of the British Mandate, but the idea is that sometimes if you ask the question, you’re guaranteed to get the answer you don’t want, while if you don’t ask, it might work out for you. This is a very common axis of tension in Israeli life.

    For what it’s worth, you’ve got my solidarity, and I am never going to eat in Cumin.

    Love to Julie and the rest of the family,

    Sam

  2. Josh,
    I loved the review.
    I will also not eat there ever again.
    Only 998 more people to fulfill the prophecy (counting Sam’s act of solidarity)

    Love to Julie,

    Malcolm

  3. Your blog has inspired me to also join the boycott of Cumin. Further more, I promise to make sure my wife avoids the place as well. In fact, the next time I drive by the place I will spit at their front door.

    Only 996 followers to go.

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