A Week Of Gilty Pleasures

Before I succumb to the heat wave (or die trying), I'd like to share a few thoughts from my dining adventures over the past week, during which I tried my damndest to actually use the various Groupon, Living Social and Gilt City deals my girlfriend and I had purchased months ago, back when the snow had us trapped indoors and doing things like fiddling around with group discount apps on our iPhones passed as entertainment. Back when expiration dates in mid-July felt like some far-off fantastical future what would never actually arrive. I could have sworn I'd be flying around on a jetpack before these deals expired. Oh, how wrong I was.

Two tangentially related details from the past week: I moved and I had standup comedy shows on two consecutive nights. In other words, I had more than enough reasons to be strung out, nervous and way too stressed to sleep. Yet my expiring group deals hung overhead like an impending out-of-town wedding. Man, I hate wasting money. Those rapidly approaching expiration dates felt like an appointment with the guillotine.

And so I did my best, managing to visit three New York restaurants in the knick of time — Bond Street Sushi, A Voce, and The Four Seasons' Grill Room. All were quite good, though let's skip the restaurants themselves and go straight for the group discount code experience. Here are a few general takeaways:

It's Sort of Embarrassing

There's something about producing a coupon at a fancy restaurant that makes me feel like a gigantic loser. I don't know if the wait staff and our fellow diners actually turned up their noses at the very sight of us, as if we'd just wandered up the wrong staircase out of steerage, but it sure as hell felt like they did. There's definitely something partitioning about the experience, as if you, coupon-bearer, are somehow outside the general dining experience. There are people who can actually afford to eat here. And then there are people who need a coupon. Please, right this way to the kiddie table. Your "special" menus await.

Oh, a tip to dull the mortification: don't print your coupon. Just have it on your smartphone and show it to the hostess. This is way less awkward than fumbling through a gigantic purse for a crummy folded-up piece of paper while everyone looks at you like you've just stepped out of a spaceship.

It's Impossible To Remember If The Deal Is Actually Good

An interesting facet of the deal reminders/receipts that you keep stored in your phone after purchase is that they do not include either the price you paid for the deal or the supposed actual price of what you're eating (at least, ours didn't). Thus, unless you are a bordering-on-the-insane keeper of records, you'll have absolutely no idea what you paid for the wine flight sitting before you. Which, if you're anything like me, is kind of a bummer. Sure, that rosé tastes delightful on this sweltering day, but what did I pay for it seven months ago again?

But Even If The Deal Wasn't Great, It's Well Worth It In Other Ways

Let's just say that, under normal circumstances, I'm not the type of guy who regularly swings by three high-end restaurants in the span of a single workweek. In fact, without the Gilt City deal, I bet the Four Seasons, for example, remains safely on my Things I Kinda Maybe Should Do Sometime If I Ever Get Around To It (But No Pressure) List for many years to come, along with traveling to the top of the Empire State Building or sorting my recyclables. Point is, these deals are a fabulous way to trick yourself into checking out some really awesome stuff. Without sounding quasi-religious, I'd say there was actually something life-affirming about A Voce on a random Monday evening. Eating fancy Italian meats, quaffing our wine pairings, looking out onto Central Park... damn, that took the edge off another day in advertising.

There's No Way You're Not Spending More

I don't care if you're Gandhi. There's no way you're getting the check after two Bond Street sushi rolls and two cocktails. That stuff is just too delicious! Would I care for another Cucumber Collins? Damn straight.

Thus the reality of the group discount business model. Sure, the deal might get you in the door. But you're gonna need the self control of a triathlete to stop there. I went off deal on all three occasions, guzzling cocktails, rifling through salads, sampling raw scallops. It was as if suddenly money didn't matter. As if the initial deal gave me the right to spend and consume with reckless abandon. Which normally I'd feel guilty about. And yet... we had so much fun, it didn't even matter.

Now, let me go check out the new deals....