Promotional vouchers have proved a major success for high street operators, with three quarters of diners having cashed in on special deals in the last 12 months, according to research.
The survey, by research company Grass Roots, was based on 260 mystery visits to the outlets of the UK's major restaurant chains and found that 76% of diners have used promotional vouchers in the last year. More than two thirds of them used the vouchers to reduce their average spend and avoid having to cut back on the number of times they ate out.
Stephen Broome, director of leisure and hospitality at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, said the plethora of discounted deals have been very successful in driving traffic into the casual dining sector in these more difficult times.
"It has had a negative impact on profit margins, but has also provided much needed cashflow for an industry with relatively high fixed costs," he said.
"As demand returns though you should expect to see operators slowly weaning customers of the discounted offers by making the deals on offer less and less attractive,"
The report, which surveyed 13 restaurant chains including Wagamama, Pizza Express, Loch Fyne, Café Rouge and La Tasca, also looked at service levels at these brands.
It found that nearly 90% of diners who experienced a longer-than-average wait for their food were not offered an apology. Only 15% of waiters checked that the customers' experience at the restaurant was satisfactory, with 45% of diners saying they would not return to a restaurant where no such questions were asked.
The survey also found that while customer expectations regarding service are now much higher than in the past, 28% of diners tip less in the current economic climate.
Jamie Thorpe, group project director at Grass Roots, said: "Customers of all ages are using promotional vouchers to lower their spend at restaurants while maintaining the number of times they eat out.
"However, restaurant managers need to ensure that their service staff communicate waiting times and satisfaction checks better to customers."
By Kerstin Kühn
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