Dining out? Take advantage of these deal sites

April 25, 2011 at 8:56 AM ET

In a culture where there’s a deal for just about everything (seriously, when was the last time you paid full price for anything?), it’s not surprising that a slew of sites offering discounts on food and drink have been cropping up all over the Internet. You know the drill: You sign up for Groupon, OpenTable or Living Social and every day a new offer appears in your inbox: $25 for $50 worth of food at X restaurant, or $35 for $70 worth of food at Y. While it doesn’t cost anything to get these emails, joining all of these deals sites can get a bit overwhelming. Here are three sites where membership definitely has better privileges.

Least commitment: Blackboard Eats

More of a newsletter highlighting local eateries in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, BBE allows members to buy a passcode to whatever restaurant they’re recommending for just $1. The passcode then entitles the user to a discount when they dine at the restaurant — usually 30% off, a free bottle of wine or a prix fixe special. (There’s no need to print out the passcode either. Simply tell your waiter when you arrive.) “A buck is so innocuous that if you end up snoozing, you're not out very much,” says founder Maggie Nemser. “It also gives you some skin in the game without having to prepay for the whole experience.”

Most consistent savings: VillageVines

A sophisticated newcomer to the discount dining arena, VillageVines dispenses with the whole deals model and simply charges users $10 to make a reservation at some of the hottest spots in their city. The service is currently available in the New York metro area, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago. For that $10, you’ll get 30% off your bill in return. (A pretty penny if you’re dining at, say, 21 Club in New York City.) “The $10 is effectively a cover charge that gets you access to that insider dining experience,” says CEO Benjamin McKean, who adds that the 30% off incentive makes consumers more inclined to splurge on a nicer bottle of wine or to order dessert —  a win-win for both the diner and the establishment.

Swankiest sell: Gilt City

Savvy shoppers associate the Gilt brand with deep discounts on designer duds. But their city editions (available in Boston, Chicago, New York, Miami and San Francisco) have some stellar food finds among the jazz tickets and half-price haircuts. (A recent offer scored takers 40% off on cocktails and apps at The Four Seasons Restaurant, hardly a place known for freebies.) “We’re looking to curate the best dining experience, regardless of price point,” says Lee Schrager, chief lifestyle advisor for Gilt City. That’s why you’ll find discounts on the finest fried chicken mixed in with fine dining.

Even these great sites won't get you a discount at Noma, the world's top-rated restaurant. Mark Bittman shows you how to make a couple of its dishes at home:


Get more tips and recipes for seasonal eats at Made By Michelle.