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Dollars for Dining - the D-lemma

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 The Concierge Wants To Help

Q. Ilene, it seems without meaning to be rude that your budget for dining out is beyond your average reader.  I'm 35, live in Culver City and work as a women's store manager on Robertson Blvd.  Most of the restaurants you write about are out of what me and my friends can afford.  I wish we could go to many of them. I love Top Chef on TV but till then, will you be writing about places that are really good but not as high end?  Thank you.  (Name withheld)

A.  First, thanks for writing and for being real.  This is a huge topic for me and one that I someday hope to write about in Depth on a separate blog.  My own friends have often asked about how I manage what has been called a "Mercedes life on a Toyota budget!"  They're referencing more than my meals -- add to it my wardrobe, trips, concerts, theater, movies, memberships and you get the idea.  My adrenaline is fueled by this question because I live it.



Your short answer is "Yes."  I have written about some Deals, including the amazingly priced Deluxe Thanksgiving outing last week as well as the post on BYOB's (11/22) and of course, the burger poll (10/31).  I will Definitely keep your concern in mind moving forward.



The long answer follows.  Just peek at it in Doses.  I think I can put lots of pennies back in your piggy bank.  Know this, Dining is my hobby; no expense accounts for this blogger!  Aside from writing, I too work for a living and carve out excitement by parceling my paycheck. My inner voice has Directed me as Tim Gunn would, "Make it work!"  If having a magnificent meal out is a soulful experience for you, here are some tips for Discounts and ways to prioritize expenses.


1.  Blackboard Eats.  If you're not signed up, Do register.  It's free. I bought the "VIP" membership for $25.00 a year - yep a year. Often, casual restaurants are featured but sometimes fine Los Angeles restaurants will want to ramp up their cash flow and offer a generous 30% off the bill. I've used Blackboard Eats for Culina, Scarpetta, Cleo and more.  If they don't give you 30%, they will offer a generous prix-fixe meal.  Currently running are Piccolo VeniceHamasaku and Mozza2Go (yes THE Mozza) among others.  They're pretty fabulous.
 

2. Open Table.  Not all, but nearly every outstanding restaurant uses the Open Table service for reservations garnering you 100 points per reservation.  2000 points gets you an Open Table check in the mail for $20. Are you thinking that you'll never make it to 20 restaurants?  Look closely and you'll see that some places offer 1000 points at off-times. I scope out the 1000 point tables weekly.  If I go to two a week, that's $20 in the mail. You can figure out the other math iterations, but it's a lift when that check arrives. You have to Dine smartly with these or you're not beating the system; it's beating you.  Let's say you see 1000 points at a killer Italian restaurant at 6:30 (I did this a few times with Gusto), then plan to meet a friend and have one salad and two pasta Dishes.  Dinner costs you maybe $25 each and you're halfway to a $20 Open Table check. Also, always offer to be the one who makes the reservation.  Even if your parents are going out, make the reservation for them in your name.  I became a hotel concierge (without the hotel) for my friends years ago.  I give them choices of restaurants that I think will fit their occasion and in return, they let me make the rez.  Guess who gets the points?


3. Gilt City, Living Social, Groupon, TravelZoo and sometimes even Amazon Local Deals all do about the same thing.  These are not my favorite ways to go generally because you're paying cash up front and must use them before they expire.  Nevertheless, there are excellent deals to be had, 50% off or incredible prix-fixe bargains.  Primitivo Wine Bistro kept a 50% Groupon going for quite a while.  Culina at the Four Seasons too. In fact, often top hotel restaurants make great Deals.  Fig (Fairmont), Onyx (Four Seasons Westlake), Terranea Resort and more show up repeatedly.  



Groupon just added a fantastic feature called Groupon Reserve -- no dollars up front.  Check it out.  I have an upcoming reservation at Chaya Brasserie and will get 30% off the bill. 



4. DineLA.  Sure, it's only two or three times a year but if you've been Dying to go to Craft (after all, you did mention Top Chef), Bazaar, Lucques, or Picca, they all participated last time, not to mention the hundreds of others.  The $35 three course Dinners are a steal.  Mark your calendars.  The next DineLA is January 20-31, 2014.  And while you're at it, reserve on Open Table and add points!


My Birthday Dinner 2013
5. The kindness of friends.  Prior to my Dealing with the C-word, I was more flush and used to treat my family and friends often.  I wish I could Do that more now.  In the meantime, anyone who knows me knows that I'd rather have a memorable experience than a "thing" for a birthday, holiday or special occasion.  The feeling of connection lasts a lifetime and Dining out provides that for me. Two very special friends just treated me to Spago and Baco Mercat, respectively (11/27 post).  The D Blog's sommelier, Daniel Deny has Dipped Deeply and treated me to an assortment of sumptuous suppers.  Work friends provided a gift card to Katsuya Brentwood (11/9 review)Just remember that generous offers are blessings.  Gratitude is Divine. 


And thank you again for bringing a very real question to the table (cheap pun)! 

I've scratched the surface.  Maybe some others of you have some ideas to add.  Any Discount offers to great spots that I missed?  Credit card offers?