Many operators have mixed feelings about the merit of daily deals. But even deal skeptics might want to take a look at a new service being offered by Destination Meals. It targets leisure and business travelers and—this is the key—gives restaurants a way to market to them before they arrive in town.
Destination Meals has but one offer on at the moment: Travelers coming from out of state are offered $30 promotional discount vouchers for $15. Vouchers can only be used at restaurants that are part of the Destination Meals network. So far, Fort Lauderdale, FL is the only market in which this fledgling venture operates. Its current roster of restaurants includes a few chains like The Melting Pot, a couple of well-known brand names like Il Mulino and a large number of independents. Destination Meals says it will limit restaurant membership to about 100 of the area’s 4,000 restaurants.
“It’s a very simple concept,” says company co-founder Michael Batt. “Travelers get a substantial discount that is not available to locals and restaurants that typically can’t afford to market to out-of-town customers will benefit from greatly increased numbers, especially during the quieter midweek days.” Batt may or not be right, but he has a good grasp of the possibilities thanks to his main job: founder and chairman of Travel Leaders Group, whose 6,000 company-owned, franchised and affiliated travel agencies rake in $17 billion in travel sales each year.
Travel agencies, airlines and car rental companies sell Destination Meals vouchers. They’re good for food and beverage, but tax and tip are extra. Customers can only use one voucher per visit or reservation. Some restaurants in the program require a minimum spend before the voucher can be used, particularly on weekend days. Vouchers must be used within six months of purchase.
Local residents can ‘t buy or use these deals, the company says. Vouchers must be purchased with a credit card registered to an address at least 100 miles away from the offering market.
“The beauty for local restaurateurs becoming members in Destination Meals is that they don’t have to worry about unnecessary local market dilution because it simply will not be available to locals,” says co-founder Edward Cespedes. “Instead, it will drive a totally disproportionate share of leisure and corporate visitors to their establishments.”
Naturally, Destination Meals has plans to expand into other top travel destinations across the U.S. We don’t know how well this new deal service will play out for restaurants, but we do like the fact that it’s focused on a customer segment most restaurants have trouble reaching. We also like that whoever set up the program seems to have talked to restaurant operators before deciding exactly how it was going to work.
If there’s steady tourist traffic in your town, keep an eye on how well Destination Meals works for its initial roster of restaurant owners. The results could be an indicator of where the daily deal market is headed.