Anyone reading my blog knows that I’m obsessed with food, so when my company offered the chance last December to sign up for the Gourmet Society Card at a corporate rate, I immediately tried to find out more.
Gourmet Society gave me guest access to their website to learn more about the benefits offered to members. On the list of participating restaurants in Belfast were a handful that I’ve been wanting to try, and with my family visiting this year I thought that membership – which comes with 2-for-1 offers or 25% discounts – seemed like a good deal. The site also promised other perks, such as promotions on afternoon tea and cheaper movie tickets, all of which I was happy to have.
The first disappointment came when I received my membership information which allowed me to view the full details of the various discounts. There were no participating outlets for afternoon tea in Northern Ireland, and the movie offers were half-hearted. Discounted movie tickets needed to be booked about a week in advance and were barely any cheaper (difference of less than £1) than box office tickets at Movie House. Depending on the day and time, Movie House’s box office tickets were even cheaper than what the Gourmet Society Card offered.
Still, I was happy enough with the list of 18 participating restaurants in Belfast. While about half were places I wasn’t likely to visit, I only really wanted to try out about 5 and there were a few others I’d dine at again, I calculated that the savings made would more than cover the membership costs.
However, it turned out to be harder than expected to use the card. Some restaurants imposed further restrictions than what was stated on the Gourmet Society website. St Georges’ Bar and Grill, for example, didn’t allow me to use the card for brunch even though it wasn’t stated anywhere on the website. Meanwhile, Coco said that the 2-for-1 discount was only valid for parties of 6 or less – never mind that the offer only applied to a couple, and that this wasn’t stated on the Gourmet Society site either.
In addition, participating restaurants can pull out at any time during the year – and might not even inform their own staff. I booked at RBG Bar and Grill thinking I could use the card for 25% off, only to be informed when I called again that they no longer accepted the Gourmet Society Card. Likewise, I noticed that Knife & Fork at Malone Lodge is no longer listed on the Gourmet Society website, even though it’s on the paper copy list I have stuck to my fridge.
While I understand that Gourmet Society can do nothing when restaurants shut down – like Ben Brazil did – surely it should require restaurants to commit to accepting the card for a full year? Otherwise, wouldn’t members have been sold a defective product, if they were promised X features but realised along the way that there’re only X-Y feature available?
So would I recommend the Gourmet Society card? Depending on the numbers of participating restaurants next year, the cost of the card and how often you eat out, your savings with the card may outweigh the costs. However, given that restrictions on using the card abound, the terms and conditions can change and what you think you’re getting may not be what you actually get, my advice is to consider very carefully before purchasing the card. After all, the grief that you receive in trying to use the card may not be worth the money you’re saving.