After several weeks of trying to get my dining out budget under control, I think I’m getting the hang of it. Oh, I still have a long way to go since I continue to overspend my budget but I’m getting better. Case in point: my Groupon experience.

At this point, Groupon is pretty common vernacular. I believe it started out as a group deals site. In other words, a restaurant or company would offer a deal that  would only be valid if a certain number of people bought the deal; if not enough people purchased it, the deal would be invalid (I could be completely wrong about this. It would not be the first time). While it remains a group deals site, I believe that it has gotten popular enough where deals become invalid, although they do get sold out.  While Groupon remains the godfather of group deals sites, many more, such as Living Social, have evolved.

I think these sites are a great idea. They’re a great way to save money and encourage people to try activities or services that they might not ordinarily try. Great promotion for the company, great price (usually) for the customer.  That said, I’m not a frequent user of Groupon or Living Social. There’s a reason for this. Although I live about 40 minutes from Philadelphia, I don’t live in Pennsylvania. I live in Delaware. And Delaware is apparently the land that Groupon forgot.

Approximately 9 out of every 10 deals I receive in my inbox are for deals in the Philadelphia suburbs. An hour or more from my house. It’s frustrating because some of the restaurant deals are unbelievable but the money I would spend in gas getting to some of these places would null any restaurant savings. Then, one day, to my sheer glee, a Groupon appeared in my inbox with an offer to my favorite vegetarian restaurant. I was over the moon with excitement and before I could even finish saying the restaurant’s name, I had purchased $20 worth of food for $10.

What’s even better is that $20 all but covers an entire meal for my family at this restaurant (the prices are really reasonable. One of the benefits of it being centrally located on Main St. near a major university). I was so excited to go to lunch for basically free. What was even nicer is that Groupon has a free iPhone app so I didn’t even have to print the offer. I just had to pull it up on my phone! This is perfect for the forgetful person like me.

When we got to the restaurant, I immediately told our server that we had a Groupon. I don’t want to say that it affected her treatment of us but it did affect the way she treated us. Which was a huge disappointment because we usually get very good service at this particular restaurant. Anyway, my daughter’s meal, including drink, was $4.50. Mine was $8 and I drank water. My husband’s meal was about $11 and his soda was another $2.50. By using the Groupon and then adding another $10 (I may be a little off on the prices), we got a $30 meal for $20. For someone who’s awful with coupons, I think I did a good job.

I do acknowledge that we could have done a little better. For instance, my husband could have drunk water rather than soda. He and I could have split an appetizer instead of each getting a sandwich.  He could have put chicken in his sandwich rather than tuna, saving $1 or $2. We could have made little tweaks here or there so that we only would have had to leave the tip and had the Groupon cover the cost of the entire meal. But we’re taking baby steps, and this certainly was an improvement over a similar meal at the same restaurant 2 months ago.

I’m hoping that Groupon puts out another offer for a local restaurant. I can get used to this!

Jana Lynch

Jana Lynch