I considered naming this post “When a gift certificate isn’t really a gift certificate.”

It’s been a few years since I’ve used Restaurant.com, the website that offers gift certificates to neighborhood eateries at a discounted price.

On its website, they advertise $25 gift certificates for $10.

Restaurant.com and DiningDough.com review: What you need to know

Many people are tempted to use the service when it occasionally discounts the gift certificates to $1 or $2 apiece. I have $300 worth of them. I got them for free from American Express.

Dining Dough is a part of Restaurant.com

Dining Dough is part of Restaurant.com

I’ll begin by explaining why Restaurant.com (also DiningDough.com) shouldn’t be calling these gift certificates.

Think back to when gift certificates actually existed. You know, before gift cards. You paid $25 to the restaurant and they gave you the cash equivalent.

That’s not how Restaurant.com operates. Far from it.

You are essentially buying coupons loaded with fine print. Minimum purchases, date restrictions and exclusions (like no alcohol) are typical.

In fact, Restaurant.com is more about splurging than saving.

On its vouchers, Restaurant.com lists the top three ways to use your gift certificate: Order dessert, try the appetizers and go for the grand entrée.

Those recommendations are meant to facilitate spending. They don’t want you to save money.

Another thing to consider is where the restaurants are located. I live in a big city and there is only one place listed on Restaurant.com within walking distance.

On top of that, few of the restaurants are ones I had even heard of.

But since I have $300 in free gift certificates, I thought I’d give Restaurant.com another try. With the Restaurant.com app loaded onto my phone, I drove 1.8 miles to one of the nearest options.

I redeemed a $5 gift certificate, which normally would cost $2 if I had paid for it.

I visited a Thai and Vietnamese restaurant. I’d call it a fast-food place. There were seats, but no waiters. I got my order to go.

Normally, Panang Curry with Chicken costs $8.95 before tax. Using my $5 discount, it was $4.67. I left a $2 tip, bringing the total to $6.67.

Had I paid $2 for the gift certificate, we’d be talking $8.67. Hardly a bargain.

Here is the delicious meal I got using my $5 Restaurant.com gift certificate

Here is the delicious meal I got using my $5 Restaurant.com gift certificate

I wouldn’t say Restaurant.com is a rip-off, but I do believe most people can find better deals without having to pay any money upfront.

Do you have experience with Restaurant.com? Was it good or bad? Let me know.

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