Thursday, March 5, 2009

Earn Free Meals on -- How to Get Three Date Nights for $15 a Pop

I really like eating out -- who doesn't like not having to wash the pots and pans? -- but for most people, restaurants are the first thing to go when economizing.
So I was happy to see that, a free online reservation service, pays reward points that you can redeem for restaurant gift certificates.
Most restaurant reservations earn you 100 points, but apparently some premium restaurants pay as much as 1,000 points for one honored reservation.
When you accumulate 2,000 points, they'll mail you a $20 dining check, which you can use at any restaurant in the OpenTable system.
Of course, this means you have to actually pay to eat out before you can eat out for free. But if you happen to make dinner reservations for nice restaurants as part of your job, you could really clean up on this system. Also, there is nothing stopping you from using gift certificates at a restaurant you reserved through OpenTable (if you're not familiar, sells restaurant discounts, and toward the end of each month they are often discounted to 80% off. It's a legit site and it's awesome.)
Chicago-area restaurants offering 1,000 points per reservation include Cafe Spiaggia (a favorite of the President and First Lady) and a bunch of fancy joints I have never heard of.
OK, but look: Cafe Absinthe on North Ave. is on both the OpenTable 1,000 points list and So you could buy a $25 certificate for there through at the end of the month for $2 (normally $10), book there through OpenTable, spend the minimum $35 (if you and your date share several "first courses" and don't order drinks, this is quite possible), and pay $10 + tax and tip at the restaurant. Tax and tip will be based on the pre-discount price, so that will be what, another $10? Do that twice, and you've spent about $45 for two outings to a nice restaurant, AND you'll get a $20 dining check which you can take somewhere much cheaper for a whole meal.
Viola. Three restaurant meals for two at $15 each (two skimpy, one possibly hearty.)
Babysitter not included.