Dining Out

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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Paying Extra For a Sweet Dinner Reservation

Last week we talked about the waning number of restaurants that offer reservations, and how alone I am in my hope for their demise (it’s fine! I accept I am in the wrong here). I guess supply and demand is catching up with us now — or with YOU, the ones who plan ahead — because, as Alan Sytsma at Grub Street reports, paying a premium to score a dinner reservation is now a thing, “whether we like it or not.” (We don’t.) (Or do we?)

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The Cost of Things: Beer for Life, $1000

Help crowdsource funding for a bar and in return, get free beer for life. Crazy? CRAZY LIKE A FOX. The strategy worked brilliantly for Northbound Brewpub in Minneapolis:

Amy Johnson and her two business partners needed to raise $220,000 to secure a bank loan and fulfill their dream of opening a restaurant that served beer brewed right there at the pub. They went to investors who offered to give heavily for a voting share in the restaurant. But since the potential investors had no experience in the restaurant industry, the owners backed away.

And then came the idea from some friends and family who wanted to help out. “They were, like, ‘I’ve got a few grand, but I don’t have too much money,’ ” Johnson recalls. “And people kept saying this over and over, and we latched onto the idea. Why not just take a couple grand from everybody and then we’d have all the money we’d need?”

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Dinner Reservations: Out

Ooh-hoo-hoo, Tom Sietsema, food critic for the Washington Post, heartily bemoans the waning number of restaurants that accept reservations:

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Cheap Date Not So Cheap

Deutsche Bank has created a Cheap Date Index (okay sure, rolling with it), wherein they measure the cost of burgers and a movie in different cities across the world. Included in the cost are cab rides, McDonald’s burgers (the great international unifier, apparently), soft drinks, two movie tickets, and ‘a couple of beers.’ NBC News is on it:

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French Restaurant Institutes Fine For Wasted Food

Here’s a fun one, via the Morning News: The proprietor of the French restaurant in Switzerland called Patrizietta was sick of seeing patrons load up on the buffet and waste a bunch of food, so he took matters into his own hands. At La Patrizietta, membership to the Clean Plate Club is free, but you face a fine of five francs if you don’t join:

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