Are Groupons Evil?

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Photo: all heart p.r.

For thousands of people, sites like Groupon and BuyWithMe are manna from heaven. Spend $40 for $80 worth of food at some restaurant that you'd never in a million years visit because your credit-card balance is choking you to death? Why, yes please! With a discount, a nice meal out seems somehow reasonable. Almost obligatory, really! But not everyone's hopping on the price-choppin' train. More ahead.

Today the Globe checks in with restaurateurs who both love, loathe, and cautiously accept the sites. Ultra-successful Joanne Chang says she "has been approached aggressively" by many such sites. But she's not biting.

According to Chang: “These companies are making money off of restaurants that are nervous or low on cash and presenting it in a way that makes it sound like such an amazing deal for everyone." But she says that restaurants are "getting a fraction of what they need to actually make money," while those discount companies get a hefty cut.

Worse, though, is the moral cheapness of doing business with group-buying sites. "Every restaurant tries to charge a price they think is fair based on what they put into it. Then to just give it away, it makes me sad. I don’t like feeling what we do is devalued." (The Haven owner Jason Waddleton agrees, saying it "kills" his soul to do business with such sites, only to see a portion of the profits evaporate to some distant cubicle in nowheresville. But he still uses 'em. His restaurant's new.)

Indeed, it seems like most restaurant owners recognize them as a necessary evil, a way to hopefully generate repeat customers. Joanne Chang's place in Boston's culinary stratosphere is secure: Her trio of Flours (plus Myers + Chang) is constantly packed, her cookbook's a hot commodity, and legions of fans follow her Tweets with a fervor often reserved for reality shows. For struggling up-and-comers, offering their lovingly made dishes for a little bit less than what they're worth just might be a soul-crushing necessity. Better than not serving them at all.

Good Deal. But for Whom? [Globe]