Daily deals bring the crowds to restaurants. Do they build the business?

Restaurants have been giving away free or discounted food since before there were fast-food salads, coffees with fake Italian names or California rolls in to-go boxes. But the spread of technology and the pressing need to attract customers in a shaky restaurant has changed the face of discounting.

Daily deal providers like Groupon and a host of start-ups promise to bring swarms of diners into local restaurants. Couponing, in the form of daily deals delivered through email, text message or social media sites, has become one of the hottest areas of retailing.

But many metro Atlanta restaurateurs are deeply ambivalent about daily deals. They can bring in huge crowds but may take substantial cuts of a restaurant’s revenue while doing so. It is not clear that discounting helps build a stable, loyal clientele for the long haul.

In Sunday's newspaper, the AJC takes a deep look at whether social media coupons help or hurt metro restaurants. It's a story you'll get only by picking up a copy of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution or logging on to the paper's iPad app. Subscribe today.