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Dine on a discounted dime

Where do you want to eat?

It's a question that comes up all the time.

Ask me, and I'll consult my coupon stash and ask for an inventory of yours. I hate to eat for full price.

I've been using restaurant coupons for years, long before couponing became an extreme household sport. It cuts like a cleaver the pool of possibilities and adds some thrill to the dining experience, especially when the food doesn't.

I've had free entrees all over town, from places like Cafe Dufrain, Bella's Italian Cafe, Giordano's, Louis Pappas and Billy's in Tierra Verde. I lost my appetite for Subway because I ate through so many buy-one-6-inch, get-a-second-one-free coupons.

A few summer deals going on make it easy to eat on the cheap. Tampa Downtown Partnership's Summertime Savings Card has discounts on more than 30 restaurants, including 20 percent off at Pizzaiolo Bavaro, 10 percent off at Indigo and free soda at Spain Restaurant. If it makes you want to live downtown, that's exactly the point.

There's also Dine Tampa Bay, which starts Friday and runs through Sept. 2. It offers $25, $35 and $45 deals on three-course fixed meals at more than 60 restaurants in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater. You pick a price, chose a restaurant and make a reservation all online at dinetampabay.com.

BOGO entrees are my filet mignon of coupons, but I don't shun ones for 20 percent or $5 off, which can cover the tax and/or tip. I don't get too excited about free appetizer deals because my goal is to reduce my bill, not add to my plate.

I've found deals in not-so-obvious places. My mechanic has those tiny booklets with deals for pitas and subs. Just last week my dentist had a flier with a BOGO deal from Jerk Hut and $5 off at the Press Box, GrillSmith and Beef 'O' Brady's.

Even junk mail delivers some gustatory gems. Valpak, in between deals for duct cleaning and closet makeovers, usually has discounts on pizza and wings. Through Twitter, I discovered Cinco de Moe's — $5 for a burrito, chips and drink on the fifth of every month. No coupon needed.

I keep my restaurant coupons in an envelope separate from my grocery ones. Get an invite? I just pull out the envelope and consult from there. For deals I might want at lunchtime, I tuck those in my purse. For deals about to expire, I put them on my counter so I don't forget about them.

Used wisely, restaurant coupons can trim food costs and break the monotony of always eating in. Have a BOGO sandwich coupon? Order the second one with no condiments, refrigerate it overnight and dress it yourself the next day. I haven't gotten sick yet.

Coupons also provide incentives for going to places you've been meaning to try. (Queen of Sheba, I haven't ignored your coupons. I promise to get there soon!) I used a $20 off coupon to check out Gallagher's in Channelside. The meal was good but not good enough for full freight, and I never went back. Today, the restaurant is closed.

I've tried Restaurant.com, Groupon and other deal websites but am not a huge fan. I don't like paying for things in advance that I might not use. And those restrictions in the fine print? They never seem that bad until you have to round up a party of 12 for dinner at 9 p.m. on a Tuesday.

Like most couponing, dining on a discounted dime can become addictive. Even torturous.

My chest tightened going coupon-less into Pizza Fusion, knowing I had a whole stack of them back at home. Or imagine my horror of sitting down at Datz only to discover that my free glass of wine card had long expired?

Talk about needing to drown my sorrows.

But those are shortlived hazards of the hobby. I can only vow to get better at it and continue hunting for good deals.

— sthurston@tampabay.com

Cheap eats

For information on the Summertime Savings Card, go to tampasdowntown.com/

summertime or call (813) 221-3686. For information on Dine Tampa Bay, go to dinetampabay.com or call (813) 223-1111.

Dine on a discounted dime 08/18/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 18, 2011 9:29pm]
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