Groupon rival VillageVines moves into Chicago

By Wailin Wong
Posted Sep. 8, 2010 at 9:38 a.m.

A New York-based Web start-up specializing in restaurant discounts and reservations is expanding into Chicago, hoping to give restaurateurs and diners an alternative to daily deal sites such as Groupon.

VillageVines officially launches in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington D.C. on Sept. 15. In the meantime, Chicagoans can sign up for the site starting today. When the site goes live, members will be able to log in and book a reservation through an online calendar that lists available restaurants and dates. VillageVines charges $10 per reservation and typically offers 30 percent off the check.

VillageVines said participating restaurants in Chicago include Al Primo Canto, C-House and Geja’s Cafe. In New York, high-end restaurants such as Le Cirque and Aquavit offer tables through the site.

One big difference between VillageVines and other daily deal sites is that diners do not need to bring in physical coupons because the site’s reservation system flags members to the restaurants and automatically subtracts the discount from the bill. VillageVines co-founder Benjamin McKean said this discreet way of handling the discounts enhances the dining experience, making it more palatable for occasions such as dates and business meals, and makes his venture more of a reservation service than just another Groupon wannabe.

“We want to be an alternative to OpenTable,” McKean said, referring to the popular online reservation service, which has also started offering daily deals. “We don’t want to be a Groupon. We don’t want to be a daily deals site.”

For restaurant owners, McKean said VillageVines is an attractive alternative to deal-of-the-day services because his company allows businesses to dictate the number of tables available for discount. This arrangement prevents restaurants from being overrun by hundreds or even thousands of coupon-wielding customers, who can often overwhelm a business or crowd out regular clients.

Georges Elbekai, owner of Al Primo Canto, said he’s done smaller-scale deals – - selling several hundred vouchers – - with LivingSocial and YouSwoop, both Groupon competitors. He’s on a waiting list to be featured for a Groupon deal, but is feeling less sure about partnering with the daily deal giant after hearing about how much traffic a single promotion can generate.

“Finding those other ways of advertising through VillageVines and smaller coupon deals is actually better,” said Elbekai, who has Al Primo Canto locations in Edgebrook and River North. “I can do, say, three to four coupon deals at a smaller pace, rather than having a huge one and getting my legs chopped.”

Elbekai said he make sure to offer discounts to regular customers as well so they are rewarded for their loyalty and don’t feel like the restaurant is devoting all its attention to new business.

“We’re in the service industry,” he said. “There’s a fine line we have to draw between your regular customers and new customers you’re trying to make.”

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  1. Nora Sep. 8, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    More sites and companies are following in the footsteps of Groupon and creating their own groupon and daily deal sites. This is great for consumers, as they now have access to more and more resources to save money. is another easy site to use to save money. Daily Deal Pool will compile all local deals and sales in your area and send them directly to your e-mail inbox, keeping you from having to search for deals or missing out on big savings.

    Using various online resources can help you save money on everyday purchases and big buys.

  2. mom Sep. 8, 2010 at 2:38 pm
  3. Rival? Sep. 8, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    Why does the headline call out this company as a “Groupon Rival” when specifically in the article the co-founder is quoted as saying they are not like Groupon at all and are competing with Open Table?

    I guess this fills the quota for the Tribune’s weekly advertisement-article for Groupon. Take a minute to search for “groupon” on the Tribune home page and count the longest gap between a Groupon article postings….

  4. Fred Kann Sep. 8, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    As seniors,in our mid 80s,we are always looking for deals where Gram does’nt have to cook

  5. Rita Sep. 8, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    This is awesome!

    I can’t wait

    I am always looking for high quality restaurant discounts and I think this will fill the void

  6. Daily Croupon Sep. 15, 2010 at 12:53 a.m.

    Check out to compare group coupon sites. We pick all the great deals from Groupon, Living Social, Bloomspot, Gilt City, and much more.