Dining Out

Amusement Park Tally: What It Cost, What It Was Worth

As promised, my little family hit up Coney Island this weekend for some sun, fun, and bruising brought on by the Cyclone, one of America’s oldest and ricketiest wooden roller coasters. Here’s what we spent and an analysis of whether each purchase was justified:

+ NYAquarium tickets

COST: $24 for two adults. Babygirl got in free.

WORTH IT?: Mostly. Did you know there are penguins in South Africa? Warm weather “jackass” penguins! They are small and adorable; in the water, swimming, they resemble ducks.

The aquarium is pretty small. A good chunk is still under construction, post-Sandy. Babygirl enjoyed trying to catch the tiny, iridescent fish in the tanks and was less enthusiastic about the sea lion show: she shrieked in terror at the sight of their sleek, monstrous bodies emerging from the water to clap their fins. Overall, it was a fun family outing, though I wouldn’t rush to do it again.

+ One Cyclone ride

COST: $9

WORTH IT: Ben emerged battered and hoarse with a huge grin on his face. Unequivocal yes, says he.

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Link Round-up! Cheap Hotel Rooms, Egg Sandwiches, Commutes

+ How do you get the cheapest good hotel room? Go through an exhaustive 7-step process that involves several different websites and Skype. (“It gets easier with practice!”) If you’re feeling more like satisfising rather than maximizing and you’re okay getting a pretty cheap, pretty good room, though, even following one or two of the steps will net useful results. Like this one:

If you’ve already booked a flight, or are going on a longer, more complicated trip, package deals won’t work. But this straightforward, in-and-out New York-to-Paris trip is exactly the sort where a package deal might be the trick. (Trips to sunny destinations in the winter also work pretty well.) I went to Kayak’s packages page and it led me to a promising deal on Priceline.com: a round-trip, nonstop flight for two from New York to Paris, plus four nights at the Crowne Plaza Paris-Republique, for $2,505. The cheapest nonstop fare on my dates was $2,503. In other words, four nights at the four-star Crowne Plaza would essentially cost 50 cents a night. I even contacted Priceline to make sure there were no hidden charges.

+ “How much should a bagel sandwich cost?” Step off, Gawker. This is our corner, and we’ve got bats. 

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When Giving Makes You Feel Rich Vs. Poor

On Thursday, I bought my best friend sushi, a treat she only rarely allows herself. On Friday, I took two of my aunts to see Boyhood, the Richard Linklater movie filmed over 12 years, which is a revelation. Better and truer than Tree of Life, and it actually made me want to spend time in Texas. On Saturday, I sent my little brother and his girlfriend to see a show at the Kennedy Center as a happy birthday! / farewell to DC, since Judah is off, with his new car, to start a job in Las Vegas. And on Sunday, I bought dinner for my husband’s godmother and her daughter, who were visiting from North Carolina.

I feel great. Better than great: I feel rich.

Sometimes being generous doesn’t work that way for me. I can buy a friend a book, or dinner, or a present, just because, or make a donation to a worthy cause, and feel sort of bereft afterwards — or at least stressed out about how much discretionary spending I should allow myself. Not regretful, just tense and sad, and then usually guilty for feeling tense and sad.

Other times, tinkling bells play lightly in the distance, meaning magic has happened. Maybe my weekend of giving worked in part because I recently had a birthday in honor of which so many people were generous to me, and it felt good to pay that generosity forward? In any event, I spent more than I anticipated — #MyLastHundredBucks, easy — although I haven’t counted up exactly how much, and I don’t care; it made me actively happy to do it. I do wish I understood the alchemy a little better, because getting to act from a place of abundance rather than scarcity, getting to feel rich by giving money away, especially to people you love, is kind of the best feeling ever.

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Our Attempt at a $20-a-Day Budget

I am a 29-year-old woman, married for four years. I am a playwright, actor, blogger, screenwriter, tutor, and babysitter. My husband is a software engineer. My money-making schedule is varied and inconsistent and sometimes I will just freak out about it—especially now, because I’m pregnant.

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The Most Expensive Meals We’ve Ever Paid For

My first job out of college was fact-checking restaurant listings. Every day, I called 25 restaurants in New York City to see if any of their information had changed, asking if their curtains were still red, their bathrooms still adorned with lavender sprigs, if their salad was still served with strawberries, if their servers still donned bow ties. With time, I had a mental Rolodex of places I wanted to eat, and Peter Luger Steak House, a restaurant so fancy it has its own Wikipedia page, was at the top.

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A Call To End Birthday Dinners

Is it just me or is everybody born in the summer? EVERYONE!!! No, but I was. Ester was born this weekend! Or you know, was born this coming weekend very few years ago. I had another in a series of birthday dinners last night and we all decided it’s because people do it more in the winter. Which, according to this hilarious piece, An Open Rant Against Birthday Dinners, means we are all spending way more than we want to taking our friends out to dinner and then resenting them for it. TRUE?

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ReservationHop Makes Money by Squatting Over Something That’s Free

ReservationHop, the new restaurant reservation app, takes a working, functional, free system – calling restaurants and making reservations — and monetizes it.

Specifically, it monetizes the system by calling San Francisco area restaurants in advance, making a number of reservations under fake names, and selling those reservations back to the general public. (To quote CNN: “The going rate for a reservation on the site appears to be $12.”)

The ire is already out. Plenty of people think ReservationHop is unethical and unfair to both patrons and restaurants. It’s the equivalent of ticket scalping, only it’s a bit worse because restaurant reservations, unlike concert tickets, are supposed to be free.

How bad is the ire? TechCrunch ran an article with a giant middle finger. Here are a few tweets that sum things up:

This is irresponsible and sleazy and exactly what people hate about startups sucking the life out of San Francisco https://t.co/pqz572FWA9

— mat honan (@mat) July 3, 2014

The newest way to be an utter jerk in San Francisco: https://t.co/pCceTvj2i9 "Let's disrupt all basic social niceties and monetize them!"

— Morgan Johnson (@Poormojo) July 3, 2014

@bmmayer get punched.

— Tim Brandonthorp (@jefsauce) July 3, 2014

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Guess Who’s Paying For Dinner?

There’s a great episode of “the Sopranos” where Meadow brings her boyfriend Finn to dinner with her dad in a restaurant and Finn grabs the check. Tony’s response is light on the gratitude:

You’re lucky you don’t get your head handed to you. Let’s get something straight: you eat, I pay. When we’re family, you pay.

He throws some bills down on the table. Finn looks to Meadow for guidance and, bless her venal soul, she sighs, “Just take the money.”

Finn is dippier than a country road. In trying to do a Good Thing, he forgot that, just as you don’t get involved in land wars in Asia, you don’t get into a dick-swinging contest with your GF’s dad and/or the biggest mob boss in the NY metro area, especially not in public and when said GF, his daughter, is watching. What if we’re talking regular dads, not Godfathers, though? What if you go out to dinner with your parents, or your partners’ parents? How do you decide whether to pick up the tab? Etiquette dictates that if you invite, you pay, and vice versa, but what did etiquette ever have to do with the fraught-but-loving relationships between parents and children?

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Waitress Given $1K; What’s the Most You’ve Ever Tipped?

Waffle House waitress Shaina Brown got a $1,000 tip from a customer — and immediately had to surrender it:

During a night shift on Mother’s Day in North Carolina, the Waffle House waitress received an extraordinary tip from a humble benefactor. The man, who has not been named, wanted to leave $1,000 for Brown, and an additional $500 he wanted her to share with another customer in the Raleigh restaurant, local outlet The News & Observer reports. So the benevolent patron wrote $1,500 on the tip line on his receipt before leaving. Brown was overjoyed to receive the gift, until she learned that it was not in Waffle House’s policy to let her keep such a generous tip.

The chain’s policy is to refund any tip that extravagant left via credit card. It makes sense in a way — presumably they don’t want to take seriously what could be a joke, or a simple typo, and have to deal with an irate customer challenging the charges. But the poor waitress! Luckily the patron, in this case, assured the restaurant that the gift was intentional and he wrote Brown a check for the full amount.

Once I tolerated a lonely man flirting with me in bad French when I was tending bar, helping out at a friend’s fundraiser. It was only an hour of handing out glasses of wine, and I had $40 in tips at the end of it, half of which came from that one guy. I guess he was $20 worth of grateful to have something to do instead of circulate awkwardly. What’s the best tip you’ve ever gotten, or — like famously extravagant tippers Frank Sinatra and Johnny Depp — given?

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Why is Salad So Expensive AND The Solution to the Problem

Perhaps you’ve noticed that salad is expensive — like, expensive enough that you could spend the same amount on a decent bottle of wine or some quality hair product. It often costs more to buy a salad than to buy a sandwich or hamburger at restaurants, including fast food chains like Subway. A paltry half-frozen McDonald’s salad, made of iceberg lettuce and vaguely colored cellulose, costs more than a Big Mac. This feels unfair. Salads often don’t taste very good. (That’s why they need such extensive PR campaigns.) They don’t boast uniformly high-quality ingredients that justify the price tag. A lot of them are not even filling, unless they’re loaded with so many fats, carbs, and proteins that they become “salad” in name only. Why must we pay more to receive less?

Sure, it’s about the Farm Bill and subsidies and lobbyists and all that jazz. I have a sneaking suspicion too though that those of us who feel guilty enough to buy salads out, rather than assemble them at home, are being taxed for wanting to appear healthy and/or eat our way to righteousness. Basically, we’re saps.

Either way, I was thrilled to discover the other night that there is a restaurant near me that serves an incredible salad filled with delicious things, including goat cheese, avocado, and corn, for $5. Yeah, you heard me. This salad could make blind see and the lame tap-dance, and it costs five bucks! I will eat there every day forever.

What are your salad hacks? Or are you wise to this boondoggle and do you stick to assembling your own vegetables at home?

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