By Gretchen Webster
The owners of a Fairfield restaurant have decided to honor gift certificates sold for their previous restaurant after a Facebook complaint posted by one man set off a flurry of negative comments about the business.
Henri and Ivanina Donneaux, the owners of the Grilled Cheese Eatery at 57 Unquowa Road, will now honor gift certificates for their former restaurant on the same site, CafÃ© Lola, Ivanina said this week. They will also honor CafÃ© Lola certificates at their new restaurant in Westport, Grilled Cheese Eatery Express, set to open at 772 Post Road East in February.
The grilled cheese restaurant was opened by the Donneauxes last summer after their French restaurant, which had operated in the same Unquowa Road spot for about four years, was closed earlier in the year.
"We will continue to honor CafÃ© Lola certificates," Ivanina Donneaux said. "This is just a gesture of goodwill, but not required."
The Facebook complaints started after Will Diaz posted a statement saying that his wife had contacted the Grilled Cheese Eatery and was initially told their CafÃ© Lola gift certificate would be honored at the Grilled Cheese Eatery. But he said after the family finished dinner at the restaurant, they were told the Lola gift certificate was no longer being accepted -- and he was angry.
His Facebook posting on the incident elicited eight comments from seven different people, all negative about the restaurant -- except for one.
"Don't you realize that if you would just honor the gift cards from folks ... they would come back?" one said.
Of all the Facebook responses to Diaz's complaint, one person said the restaurant had a right to refuse to honor the certificate because the restaurant's name had changed.
Connecticut businesses, by law, must honor gift certificates and cards, and may not put expiration dates on them or impose fees if the cards or certificates not used, according to Claudette Carveth, director of communications for the state Department of Consumer Protection. The only exceptions are gift cards issued by federally owned financial institutions in Connecticut, which follow federal standards, she said.
However, in the case of Cafe Lola/Grilled Cheese restaurants, if the first business was closed and a new restaurant opened, even if the owners were the same, the new restaurant probably would not be obligated to honor the certificates issued by the former business restaurant, Carveth said.
She added, however, that she found it hard to understand why the owners would not honor the earlier gift certificates anyway.
"It's not a way to win customers so early on in a new business venture," Carveth said.
Ivanina Donneaux initially disagreed on the issue, explaining that she and her husband had honored CafÃ© Lola gift certificates from the opening of the Grilled Cheese Eatery in July through the end of December. The restaurateurs could not afford to honor the gift certificates any longer, she said, and they were not required by law to honor them. She emphasized that she knew of only the single complaint about the Cafe Lola gift certificates that was posted on Facebook.
"From a business owner's point of view, and as a member of the community, we went past our obligation," she said. "We have to draw the line at some point."
However, after inquiries by the Fairfield Citizen, the couple decided to change their policy and honor CafÃ© Lola gift certificates, refunding any unused part of a certificate with a Grilled Eatery certificate. Donneaux posted the revised policy to accept the certificates on the restaurant's Facebook page this week. She does not know how many Cafe Lola gift certificates are outstanding, she said.
The Department of Consumer Protection should be contacted by any consumers whose gift cards or gift certificates are not being honored, Carveth noted.
"We would certainly like to hear from customers," she said. "We would encourage customers to file complaints."
To file a complaint with the Department of Consumer Protection about gift cards and certificates that are not honored by the establishment that issued them, consumers must first make a copy of the gift card or certificate. Then they can either fill out a complaint form, available online at www.ct.gov/dcp or describe the complaint in a detailed e-mail sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit the department's web site at www.ct.gov/dcp or call 860-713-6050.