The Internet has all kinds of little hidden gems that you have to randomly stumble on sometimes, and here’s one that you might not have heard of: there are several sites that are trying to be the “Fandango” of restaurants, where you book a reservation in advance over the Internet. Many of them have some pretty big discounts for you if you do.
For example, http://www.dinnerbroker.com. This is a site that has special offers at some restaurants – and flat, 20% to 30% discounts at others. The downside is that it seems to have a limited number of cities available, and not that many restaurants within those cities. They’re also pretty expensive ones – it isn’t the place to go if you’re a true tightwad. But if you go to these restaurants anyway, or if you have a special occasion where even the frugal have to splurge a little, you can decide which fancy restaurant to go to based on how big a discount they’ll give you. The ones on there are definitely very nice places to eat.
Another site that I don’t think is AS good is http://www.opentable.com. Instead of an instant discount, you get points for making reservations online with them. Over time, if you make a lot of reservations, you earn them and trade them in like frequent flier miles for set amounts of money applied against your next restaurant bill. The problem I have with this is that you have to be a frequent diner at these kind of places – and if you are, you probably aren’t the sort of person looking to save money anyway. BUT – there’s one big exception. What kind of person gets the most out of frequent flier miles? A business traveler who isn’t paying for his tickets! So if you frequently eat out for business on the company dime, this site is great for you – you earn your own points and can keep them for yourself, whereas a site that just gives you a discount saves money for your employer, not you.
Then there’s Restaurant.com. This site is great because it sells you gift certificates valid at the restaurants they have in their list for pretty big discounts. For example, a $25 gift certificate is $10. A very good deal. You can even just print them out after you buy them, so you can get them the night you’re going out if you have to make last minute plans. The only caveat: lots of the restaurants have specific restrictions, so READ BEFORE YOU BUY. These include stuff like a minimum 18% tip automatically added to the bill before your gift card is applied, a minimum purchase amount, and you can’t spend it on alcohol. Each restaurant gets to make their own restrictions up, but those three seemed to be pretty standard.
Just remember with these sites – if you’re spending more than you normally would, you’re not saving money – you’re wasting it. So only use them if they’re for a place you were planning on going to anyway.
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