Somebody Help This Poor Restaurant: American Express iPhone Coupon

A frustrated restaurateur, who chooses to remain anonymous, asks fellow indie restaurants the following question:

We had a guest present an iPhone coupon from FourSquare at our restaurant yesterday. The deal is “spend $5, get $5 off.” The problem is we never signed up for couponing or advertising or ANYTHING with this company. The guest was very upset when he left. He kept showing everyone the coupon on his phone. He took the $5 out of the waiters tip – and told the waiter he was doing it because he was so pissed off about the iPhone coupon. We took the $5 out of petty cash and made the waiter all good. I’ve since learned the deal is a “Support Small Businesses” program agreement between American Express and Foursquare. American Express will give you $5 off your Amex statement when you log in on Foursquare at these places. Fortunately, we’re on that list. Unfortunately, nobody every informed us of the promotion so we could prepare our employees. Any other restaurants out there having problems with this? Other customers? Thanks.


  • Robbie

    I have seen this offer come up on my Foursquare app for many places that I have visited but did not know if it was legitimate or not. Now I know.

  • Chris D.

    Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I thought it was pretty self explanatory. When you hit the “Details” link it clearly states that if you use an American Express card to pay for something at a recognized small business you’ll get a subsequent credit on your Amex statement. I think expecting American Express to notify all businesses that qualify as a “small business” that there was a promotion is a bit ridiculous. There is no way they’d have proper contact info or the resources to contact every small business in the U.S.

  • TLS

    Am I missing something? It sounds like Amex is going to credit $5 on the monthly bill, not taking the $5 from the business.

  • Brandy

    @ Chris- Yes, I’m afraid you will be in the minority. American Express finds EVERY small business… It’s kinda what they do. You open a business, you are getting mail from AmEx. All of them. They should not put a business on their promotion without written consent. Even though it is now clear to the restauranteur (and hopefully the dreadful customer) that the promotion is for AmEx to take the $5 out of their statement… it embarrassed the owner, pissed off the customer, and took money out of the servers pocket. Very irresponsible of them. Way to help small businesses!

  • Brandy

    @ TLS… yes that is clear now… but the owner didn’t have the ability to read the fine print while the customer was still there. If he’d known he could have informed his staff of how to explain it to the customer.

  • Restaurant Owner

    I think this is important information for owners to be aware of. What ultimately happened was 4 guests walked out thinking we weren’t honoring something we never offered. Had we been informed, we could have told the guests INSTEAD that they would get their $5 in the form of a credit on their American Express card. Because we didn’t know about this it created a great deal of awkwardness for the restaurant, and the guests, right in the middle of a busy dinner service. In other words, what ws to create good will for American Express and Foursquare was at our expense, unknowingly and unwillingly.

    We deal with scams all the time in this industry, every day numerous emails arrive ordering large to-go orders to be picked up by a delivery driver, for whom we are to add a $150 gratuity. The businesses are now out 100% of this type of theft – the credit card companies no longer cover this, and probably rightly so. We’ve had people present fake gift cards (we don’t take plastic ones, that’s a huge giveaway). The end result is we have to be evermore vigilant in an electronic era.

    Now at least we have the information to provide to our employees, and hope this helps other restaurant owners when confronted with the same dilemma. Then it truly can be a WIN-WIN-WIN, right Amex and Foursquare?

    @ Chris D – American Express is not offering this for all small businesses. Only the small businesses that accept the American Express card. They have no problem contacting us when it regards the 3.5% they get on the sale, the sales tax, and the tip. They can reach right into our bank accounts if they want.

    @TLS – yes that is what is says, but the credit is on the guest’s bill not ours. One, he obviously didn’t read that part, and two, we didn’t know what the heck was happening with all that. Was it being “sold” online by a 3 party? Were there hundreds of them on their way in? We had no answers, and that was the hard part.

  • irodguy

    I have actually seen this pop up several times. Last time it did, the restaurant did not even take American Express.

  • TLS

    Got it.

  • JS

    @ Restaurant Owner, unfortunately you can’t fix stupid, and that’s exactly what it sounds like your customer was. As an apology for that jerk, post the name of your restaurant and I will be glad to patronize it. I must warn you, however, if it is a buffet you will lose $!

  • allison

    This was originally a part of Small Business Saturday. Customers would get a credit on their bill when using their Amex on that day. They changed it last year. See if someone within the store signed you up for SBS way back when.

  • LJT

    I’m with JS on this one – well, aside from the buffet comment. I am a long time AMEX user, and when they did this a few months ago with shopping local and small I jumped at the chance to spend $25 and get a $25 credit. It was not confusing, and I wouldn’t exactly consider myself a rocket surgeon! I received an e-mail from AMEX about 10 minutes after my purchase confirming the credit towards my AMEX bill. Sweet!

    @Restaurant Owner…sorry for your experience.

  • A. B.

    Happened to us at Bolsa a few weeks ago. You have to link your AMEX account to the foursquare app and then the $5 is supposed to come off of your monthly statement. Which reminds me, I never checked our statement to see if they took $5 off. I don’t think the restaurant signs up for it and I don’t think the patron has to indicate to the waiter/manager that they are ‘redeeming’ the perk. It is all done in the cloud, mwahahahaha!

  • A. B.

    Just checked and yes, $5 off my AMEX statement. Again, we checked in via foursquare, clicked a link in the promo and entered our AMEX # so they could keep track, but didn’t tell anyone at the restaurant that we had done anything related to the promo. It is all between AMEX and foursquare.

  • I’ve seen it and used it, then received the confirmation and subsequent credit a number of times. I did assume, however, that the restaurants were aware of it!

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