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Saturday, February 22, 2014

The 4 Biggest Rip-Offs NYC Bars and Restaurants Would Have You Believe Are Great Deals

I'm always on the lookout for a great deal, especially if said great deal involves copious amounts of alcohol and food.

Some examples of great deals for foodies and alkies in NYC include:

  • Bottomless brunch at The Spot in Crown Heights: $14.95 for unlimited mimosas with a brunch item, and there are dozens more boozy brunch wins all over the city if you do a quick Google search
  • All-you-can-eat sushi at Bay Ridge Sushi: $21.95 for soup, salad, and AYCE sushi. And it's made fresh, not sitting under warm lights for hours in a buffet
  • The NYC Best Bar family: every day from 12-8 the entire bar is half price. That means Sam Adams pitchers for $9.50. And the 8 pm happy hour end time is perfect because it's around that time that they all get douched-up by former frat guys (or current frat guys, depending on how long it's taking them to graduate college). 

As a person in her thirties--albeit early thirties; let's not get ahead of ourselves--I've learned to sniff out the good deals and snuff out the crappy ones. But here's the problem: a lot of times the crappy deals are touted by restaurants and bars as can't-misses. And if you're not an experienced drunk, beware: you may fall victim to an enticing flyer posted by that run-of-the-mill sports bars in midtown you happened to like on Facebook. 

Fear not, alcohol amateurs. I'm here to help. Never, ever, agree to any of the following. If you do, you will experience remorse far worse than that last tequila shot can provide. Mark my words. 

1. Table-side Guacamole at Mexican Restaurants

I know the image in this photo looks delectable. Hell, I wish I had a big honking bowl of guac right now as I sip my red wine. I didn't put that picture there to torture you; I put it there to desensitize you to the deliciousness so that the next time a beautiful, raven-haired waitress dressed in off-the-shoulder "traditional" Mexican garb wheels her cart up to your table, you have the willpower to say, "NO!" 

Here's my problem with table-side guacamole. Restaurants seem to justify gross overpricing of guacamole by hyping up the fact that they MAKE IT RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU SO YOU KNOW IT'S FRESH. In many cases an order of guacamole costs more than the entrees on the menu. And they give away salsa with the same freaking chips for free. 

Plus, have you ever checked out the price of an avocado in the supermarket? About a buck each, and pretty much all you have to do to make guacamole is mix one with some of the aforementioned salsa. They're banking on the fact that you're already too drunk on ginormous margaritas to care that they're charging you $16.95 for a pre-appetizer (let's be real: you order the guacamole, then an appetizer, then your entree when you go out for Mexican). 

Frankly, when I go out to eat I don't really want to see the food prepared in front of me. That's why I go out to eat. If I actually cared what happens in the kitchen, I'd stay home and learn how to do it myself. 

2. Holiday Prix-Fixe Menus

                                                              Note to self: order more pink balloons next year. 

The night before Valentine's Day seemed like the perfect time to make reservations for the faux-liday, at least according to the procrastinator in me. I called several restaurants before finding one that said you could order from the regular menu; most were only offering a prix-fixe. 

Unless you're paying for a party for 50 people and you don't want everyone ordering lobster and Johnny Walker Black, I happen to hate prix-fixe menus. Maybe it's because I went to Catholic school and had someone telling me what I was required to wear every day for twelve years, and now as an adult paying customer, I don't want a restaurant telling me what I should eat just because the calendar says it's a particular day. 

Not to mention that most prix-fixe menus look something like this: 


                  VALENTINE’S DAY 2014 at PJ O’Callahan’s


Looking to impress a new date? Or maybe you’re stuck with the same person you’ve been with 
for the last 20 years and just hoping to get laid tonight?

For only $150 a person (that’s right, we’re jacking up the price since V-Day is a Friday this year…suck it) you get:

The oysters we couldn’t sell all month (hey, we’re an Irish pub...if you’re expecting decent seafood you’ve come to the wrong place)

Prime Rib (read: NOT filet mignon)   

Some chocolate shit you’ll be too full from the crappy appetizer and fatty entrée to even care if you get

Your choice. (Beverages aren’t included in prix-fixe menus. So drink whatever you want, but you're paying extra for it.)

ENJOY YOUR MAGICAL EVENING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, they don't really look like that. But they should. And the fact that "prix-fixe" is technically a French term does not make it worth any more money. 

3. NYC Restaurant Week


                                                                    Don't get too excited. These puppies are $12.50 a pop. 

This one is along the same lines as the prix-fixe menus. It kills me every year (or twice a year, because it certainly seems like Restaurant Week comes along more than annually) that lunch for $25 or dinner for $38 is supposed to be considered a deal. And the disclaimers listed on the website are as numerous as the restaurants that are boneheaded enough to participate in this shit show. They say: 

"*Saturdays excluded, Sundays optional. Beverages, gratuities, and taxes not included. Valid at participating restaurants."
In case you haven't figured it out by now, in my opinion, if said "deals" do not include beverages, then you've got no shot with me. But let's say you're not a lush; you're totally fine going out to lunch with a friend without having a drink. (A foreign concept to me, but whatever.) Let's just assume you're okay with tap water. You decide to go for lunch at, oh I don't know, 2 West (because it's the first participating restaurant on the list). You get a soup; choice of yellowfin tuna club, skirt steak, or jumbo scallops for entree; and a berry tart or cheesecake for dessert.

Are you seriously telling me most people would rather eat a freaking steak for lunch than have a glass of pinot grigio? I personally would rather eat light for lunch and have a drink, but maybe that's just my propensity to get drunk as cheaply as possibly.

In any event, you and your dining partner would be out about $64.00 for lunch ($50 food bill + $4.00 tax at 8% + 20% tip). And remember: that's lunch. With no drinks except tap water.

So feel free to enjoy Restaurant Week and try out some trendy NYC restaurants. Just make sure it's not on a Saturday.

4. Open Bar "Prizes" at Nondescript Party Bars

It's definitely happened to you: One night a few weeks ago, while patronizing The Tipsy Tortoise on 54th and 7th (totally made up, so don't go Googling it) the peppy little promoter wearing an over-sized tee shirt with a turtle turned on its back (and x's for eyes, natch) came up to you with a clipboard and shouted over the shitty cover band's rendition of "Don't Stop Believin,'" "Would you like to put your email address down for a chance for a free happy hour?" 

You were five Turtle Tanks in, so of course you obliged. You may have even put your work email down if it was happy hour and you were still in business mode. What you weren't anticipating was the flood of emails that would soon follow, everything from #ThrowbackThursdayDeals to e-flyers advertising the bar as The Best Place to Party on Arbor Day. 

                                  Tag us in a pic of the tree you just planted and get a free kamikaze shot. #treesarepeopletoo

But inevitably, you and any of your friends who were also dumb enough to drunkenly sign souls away to the devil, will receive the email they would have you believe is the big prize:


Dear Elizabeth, 

CONGRATULATIONS!!! You have won a FREE HAPPY HOUR for you and your friends. That means YOU get free well drinks and domestic beers for TWO HOURS!!!! Here's how it works:

  • Choose an afternoon this month between Monday and Wednesday from 4-6 pm. (Holidays excluded.) 
  • Bring at least 10 friends with you. 
  • Your friends get an open bar for only $20 each! That's all the well drinks, domestic beers, and house wines they can drink for TWO HOURS!!!
  • Gratuities not included.
Looking forward to hearing from you! Call 212-555-3838 and ask for Kelly to book!!!!! 

What this means is they're willing to give a few free shitty drinks to one person if that person will bring ten other paying customers during non-peak hours. It's genius marketing, when you think about it: who among us can resist the siren song of "You've won!" and "Free" anything? 

But when you really break it down, it's not a free happy hour, even if you're the "winner." You still have to tip, unless you enjoy bodily fluids in your drink, and maybe even a little bit extra since you're technically not paying for the drinks. So let's say you're tipping $2 a drink. If you're paying anything more than that for Miller Lites or Georgi vodka on a random Tuesday, you're getting robbed, my friend. 

As for your friends, the good sports (read: stooges) who agreed to come along with you so you could claim your so-called prize, don't even get me started. Throw a stone in NYC and you can probably hit ten happy hour deals that include $3 domestic beers. That means your friends would need to down seven beers in those two hours to make the $20 they're paying at the door a deal. And I'm not even getting into tipping yet. For people who have to go to work the next day, it's probably not happening. 

So the next time your 22-year-old coworker begs you to come out on a Wednesday because he's got a "great deal" for you, feel free to pass on it.

Just don't expect him to show up for yours. 


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