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Website sells gift cards for local restaurants that get nothing in return

A website that offers discounts to restaurants and customers has some restaurants concerned. (WCHS/WVAH)

A local restaurant was searching for answers and reached out to the Eyewitness News iTeam for help.

The restaurant is on a website that is selling gift cards to its business.

The problem is, the owner of the restaurant said it is getting nothing in return and it cannot get off the site.

Our iTeam started digging and found out the restaurant is not alone and that the website, restaurant.com, doesn't come with rave reviews.

Roni's Pizza in Elkview is the kind of place where it is likely that the owner, Frank Slaman, knows your name.

“Pete, you doing ok? You want another beer?” Slaman said checking on his customers.

“You doing good Ian? Good.”

Roni’s Pizza is a locally owned restaurant serving up drinks, pizza and a good time.

“I’m trying to run a nice business, trying to employ 20 people or so, trying to give the community something here,” Slaman said.

That is why Slaman is concerned about a website that he said could be hurting his restaurant's good name.

“Anytime someone buys one of those coupons and I have to tell them, ‘Sorry, I don't accept that,’ they can get on my Facebook page and write what they want about me,” Slaman said.

Slaman is talking about restaurant.com, a site that offers up discounts to restaurants across the country -- for a steal.

Roni's is among about a dozen restaurants listed on the site in the Charleston area. The problem, Slaman said, is that Roni's is not even supposed to be on the site.

“I'm giving unbelievable discounts and they're taking every dollar of that. I'm getting nothing in return,” he said.

About three years ago, Slaman said he was contacted by restaurant.com about running a promotion. He did -- for six months -- but then decided not to renew. But the site has never taken down his information and never stopped offering the deal.

“I have tried reaching out to them, dead end numbers -- and it feels like I'm just getting the runaround," he said.

Frank said he has been honoring the coupons, but it is breaking him and now he has to say no.

“It’s hard because you have these customers coming in, that they bought them in good faith. It’s hard to tell them no,” Slaman said.

Destiny Boggess was one of those customers. She works nearby and is a Roni's regular and said when she came across the deal online, she bought up several coupons, spending about $30.

“I am a pretty big bargain shopper. I try to look for bargains and deals,” Boggess said.

Boggess said she was excited when she came across the deal, but then discovered it was worth nothing.

Slaman honored her coupons but informed her of the real deal.

“It’s a little rough because you spend your money on it, but at the same time, you don't want the restaurant to lose money,” Boggess said.

If you go to the restaurant.com site, there are 14 restaurants in the greater Charleston area that come up.

The Eyewitness News iTeam called every restaurant on the list. Only half answered. Of those, three of the restaurants told us they accept the gift cards and Christopher's Eats had a good experience.

But Ludoria's, a small restaurant in Boomer, did not even know it was on the site.

Capitol Grille Eathouse on Washington Street in Charleston said it ran a promotion a long time ago, but were never reimbursed and did not know restaurant.com was still offering the coupon.

In fact, the Better Business Bureau issued a "Be Aware Alert" about the site after more than 250 similar complaints from restaurants and customers across the country.

When the iTeam began looking into this case several weeks ago, another restaurant on the list, the Lucky Dill, had a similar story, saying it never authorized the site to run a coupon on its behalf.

The iTeam called restaurant.com several times over several weeks. Last week, the Lucky Dill was taken down. And just this weekend, Roni's was removed from the site.

On the afternoon this story aired, a representative for restaurant.com, which has been in business for about 20 years, sent us an email response saying it has a dedicated team that works to assist its restaurant partners and they can call, email or fax to get removed.

To be safe, the BBB suggests that prior to purchasing any certificates from restaurant.com, you should contact the specific restaurant and verify that it is a participating business and will accept restaurant.com coupons or certificates.

Also, if you have a complaint against any website, you can file that with the BBB or the West Virginia Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division.

It is also important to point out that this is restaurant.com. There also is an unrelated restaurants.com -- with an "s."

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