In most cases, coupons are a path to disaster. Coupons undervalue your product, and getting customers to come in with coupons doesn’t give them a good idea of what type of value you really offer. You end up with customers that think your restaurant is a good value, “with a coupon”. Then, they wait til the next coupon to come out before they come back to your restaurant.
As far as chains that use coupons, they know something the average independent operator doesn’t. They have a sales history showing them how much of their sales are given away in the form of coupons. They track their discounts, and they price their coupon marketing strategy into their menu. If a pizza costs them $3.00 to make, and they need to make $7 gross profit for every pizza they sell, they know they have to make the regular price of that pizza $12 or $13 so they can send you a coupon and make you think you’re getting a good deal paying only $10.
How many people really pay $18.00 for a large pizza at Papa John’s? None. People wait until they have coupons. Sure Papa John’s makes money, but they know they’re not earning repeat, full price, customers by sending out coupons. They know how much money couponing is costing them, and they adjust their prices accordingly. They then use coupons as a “trick” to build value into their product.
Can coupons be used responsibly and still allow for a profit? Sure, if that is part of your marketing and pricing strategy from the get-go. Outside of that, coupons should only be used to promote items that earn you MORE gross profit than you need to make money AFTER the discount is applied. Even then, I suggest never offering a flat percentage discount, and only using coupons to promote package values, or to give freebies that are “extras” that won’t detract from the gross profit you’ll make by selling the rest of the meal at full price.