When it comes to eating out and spending less at the supermarket, it wasn’t long ago that hunting for a deal was as simple as flipping through the newspaper, scissors in hand. That memory couldn’t seem quainter in today’s online maze of deal-oriented websites, where coupons have nothing to do with saving money on the grocery bill. It seems that everyone is jumping on the deal bandwagon these days, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. Forbes has called Groupon, a site offering discounts on everything from restaurants to spa treatments, “the fastest growing company in history." Recently, Internet giants like Amazon and Google have launched similar services to cash in on the deals market.
Even online food publications are being shaped by the mass appeal of the discount. Although strictly editorial, the foodie-focused daily email from Tasting Table offers occasional “Tasting Table Specials” for subscribers of the newsletter, though TT’s Director of Communications Kai Mathey claims that, “[The specials] are 100% editorial features — never pay for play. And while they can offer excellent value, the main goal is to offer our readers inside access to some of our favorite dining and drinking spots.”
Gilt Taste, a new venture from the founders of the deals site Gilt Groupe, is an interesting merge of commercial and editorial interests. The site includes articles from the likes of Melissa Clark and Ruth Reichl (its editor) juxtaposed next to a market of expensive artisanal food products. Subscribers can expect one discount per weekday on one of these items.
Does all this bargain hunting impact the dining landscape? Being featured on a deal site may help restaurants bring in new, loyal customers who wouldn’t have otherwise stumbled upon the eatery. “These sites are there to help,” says InBundles founder Danny Lyu. “It takes away that angst you have as a restaurant owner, ‘Am I going to have customers today?’”
On the other hand, maybe the flood of deal sites is creating a new generation of media-savvy coupon clippers, loyal to no establishment but the one where they can get the best bang for their buck. As BlackboardEats founder Maggie Nemser points out, “Some dining ‘deals sites’ that are rooted in utility versus editorial are impacting diner’s expectations… setting the expectation that all meals can and should be enjoyed with a deal.”
For the discerning diner, there are only a few sites worthy of playing the coupon game. Dining deals of the best quality come from companies focused on… well, dining, because who wants to weave through coupons for bikini waxes and kayak tours to find a good restaurant deal? If, like us, you’re serious about food, we’ve narrowed down the best sites to visit for a dining deal. Now what was that about a free ice cream cone?