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In Tough Times, Restaurants Are Willing to Bargain

Next Up: Haggling at Restaurants?

From serving spiced-up burgers to offering cheaper premium steaks, restaurants are trying every trick in the book to bolster sluggish sales. Some, seeing little improvement, have turned to a strategy that was perhaps once unimaginable: haggling.

A reporter from the New York Post, who felt there was nothing to lose and only some to gain through negotiating, decided to put her theory to the test by bargaining at various Manhattan stores. The result of her experiment? She saved nearly $35 in one day by bartering at stores, including coffee shops, neighborhood restaurants, wine merchants, and even casual lunch chains. At Starbucks, a barista slashed 25 percent off the cost of a caramel macchiato "without batting an eye." When the reporter told a manager at sandwich and salad chain Cosí that she was trying to save money, she got a 10 percent discount. A local café was willing to give her a 20 percent "starving artists discount" off of a $50 table.

I'm a little dumbstruck, as America really doesn't embrace haggling. I haven't bargained for anything — let alone food — since my last trip to a foreign country. But, for the food service industry, could the best way to see change at the register be with flexibility in price? What do you think? Is bargaining something you've ever tried at a restaurant? If not, then given the current economic climate, would it be something you'd be willing to consider?


Join The Conversation
aimeeb aimeeb 8 years
I don't know if I could do that!
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 8 years
Its completely tacky and if anyone I was with asked for a frakkin discount while we were at lunch i would die of embarrassment first and then lecture them later about etiquette.
medenginer medenginer 8 years
The only way I would expect or ask for a discount if it was bad service or something of that nature at restaurants or other places. I have no desire wasting precious time to save money unless it's a major purchase that's worth it.
SeptemberLights SeptemberLights 8 years
I agree! This is not India or Mexico....your local barista is going to end up suffering if you haggle over the price of a coffee. The company looses money and then the barista's hours get cut or she makes less money. In turn then she has less money to go out and spend on things. It is a vicious cycle people. If you cannot afford to pay for something than just don't go. I call it the **Karma of Economics** Eventually it will all come back you.
jessie jessie 8 years
if you're gonna barter for food...then why are you out in the first place? you know you can make it cheaper at home. if you can't afford it...don't buy it
magalaya magalaya 8 years
It's interesting because I'm a communications student and I learned in my first year at university about the history of consumerism and how it has transformed commercial relations between individuals and merchants, and this is exactly what one of the changes were. In exchange for being able to "browse" and choose (i.e. browsing and choosing a menu item), we gave up the right to haggle for prices and as such, prices were set. Considering that the current economic crisis is definitely causing a different sort of mindset in consumers, you can't be too surprised that people are attempting to resort to the old set of commercial relations given that a lot of people are probably losing faith with how the fundamental functions of the economy play out. That said, I do agree that it's a little tacky. But then again, that's also because we've all been sociall conditioned to understand that as so.
itsme3683 itsme3683 8 years
Bellasugar took the words right out of my mouth--if you can't afford a $6 latte, you can't afford a $4 one, either. Just don't go out.
Mojo-Jojo Mojo-Jojo 8 years
I feel like you can always find what you want for a lower price if you look for it. Its not fair to go to a gourmet organic food market expecting to get bottom dollar warehouse if you want cheap coffee, make it at home or go to 7/11. If you can't afford the bar tab and tip, get appetizers or order take out so you don't have to tip and drink at home, the mark up on alcohol is ridiculous! They are charging those prices for a reason and random discounts shoud be absorbed only for unhappy clients and people who truly deserve them, not everyone with caviar dreams and tuna fish money.
merie33 merie33 8 years
I don't like this. As a (non-management) restaurant employee, it really puts us in an awkward position if someone asks for a discount. We really don't have the authority to say yes, but at the same time it's embarrassing (and you feel like a jerk) to tell a person no. And how is a restaurant to make any money at all if we start slashing prices for people. If we could afford it, wouldn't we just lower menu prices? The recession is hitting everyone, including restaurants!
miznic miznic 8 years
I can see haggling for the price of a hotel room; most hotels don't want to see you walk away, so their desk clerks are positioned to haggle prices with you. But a restaurant? I wouldn't even encourage it.
nosierosie nosierosie 8 years
I think that's awesome! I will commence bargaining!
Spectra Spectra 8 years
I would definitely feel uncomfortable doing that. I can haggle at street markets in Mexico, but it just doesn't feel right to haggle at a restaurant. What's next, haggling at the grocery store? In retail, it kind of makes sense because the profit margins are huge, but in the food industry it's kind of a tight business. If you can't afford your entree, look on the menu and FIND A CHEAPER ONE!
miss-malone miss-malone 8 years
Well said, snarkypants! I agree.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
Yeah, this is a little...odd to me. At one mall I worked at, I always asked for the mall employee discount in the food court. And, I think it's always good to ask for a military discount. (If you're in the military, obviously.) But, I'm not a fan of bargaining in general. I still work in retail (as a second job) and I'm in a mall that is very tourist-heavy. A lot of tourists from other countries try to bargain.
kscincotta kscincotta 8 years
This reminds me of an experiment I heard about a long time ago. A college professor challenged one of his classes to take a whole week, and every time they bought anything, they had to ask for a 10% discount. The students were really skeptical, but in the end, the majority of the time, the students got the discount without question. It really intrigued me at the time. I wish I could remember more of the details.
snarkypants snarkypants 8 years
tacky. boo hoo, you can't afford your $4 cup of coffee. MAKE IT AT HOME!!! sorry, i hate it when people do this. you know how much it costs at ________. don't go there if you can't afford it/if you don't want to pay that much for it.
ilanac13 ilanac13 8 years
well - i think that it's pretty ingenious - but i don't think that i'd be able to do that. i know that with things like starbucks or food , there's more flexibility with what things could cost - but i don't know - i feel like it's just not a good thing to go in and ask for a discount. (mind you i always try to negotiate rates for everything else)
Beauty Beauty 8 years
I think it's tacky to haggle at a restaurant, particularly when their profit margins are so small to begin with. If you can't afford to eat out, cook at home! No shame in that, but bargaining over appetizers is so declassé.
LaurenG22 LaurenG22 8 years
i always ask for a military discount... a lot of times they give me one :)
shmoo15 shmoo15 8 years
My dad told me about the whole bargaining in restaurants phenomenon and I was blown away. I feel like you if attempted that, the owner/sever/chef might tell you to pick a cheaper dish, or go to a more affordable restaurant, or eat at home. I tried to haggle for my couch at Macy's to no avail :( Maybe I need to hone my bargaining skills.
Smacks83 Smacks83 8 years
I don't think I could do it, especially at a nice restaurant. If you can't afford to eat there, then save up until you can if you really want to. As for the "starving artist discount", it is in place for starving artists not every Tom, Dick and Harry who will probably be asking for it now. I haggle for stuff before usually at street fairs and the like, but I doubt I could do it at a restaurant (especially if it was a mom and pop type place where they probably really could use that money to stay afloat).
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