Why I stopped using Groupon and other online coupon services

My last visit to Los Aztecas sent me over the edge.

I bought a Groupon/Living Social/Seize the Deal voucher for this local Mexican restaurant a few weeks before this particular visit. I can’t even remember from which website I purchased this $10 coupon — they all became interchangeable when I craved a good deal — that would be good for $20 worth of food.

I grabbed The Hubs and hopped to Westport Village over for some fajitas the day before the coupon was scheduled to expire. My butt barely landed in the seat before I slid my fingers over my phone’s screen to show the waitress my coupon.

“I’m sorry,” she said after careful inspection. “This is only good at the Prospect location.”

Curse you, Small Print.

That experience was the culmination of several unfortunate interactions with online group coupon deals. I’ll take the blame for some of the problems — I can be a bad consumer. But the sum of these inconveniences was enough to make me stop buying into the bargains, no matter how much I was supposed to save.

  • I bought deals to businesses I had never (and would never) patronize. Highland Morning. Heitzman Traditional Bakery and Deli. Sleep Outfitters. Alpine Ice Arena. All places I thought I would patronize if I bought a Groupon first. All places I still haven’t visited. The deals have all expired, and now the voucher is just good for the amount I paid instead of the advertised discount. It’s not that I never want to visit, mind you, I just didn’t get around to them in time to make my vouchers worthwhile.
  • I spent more money with the coupons than without them. Rob and I had a voucher for O’Shea’s Irish pub. We shelled out $20 on top of what we paid for the coupon. There was something about knowing I had saved a bundle that made me itch to spend a bundle, especially at restaurants. Appetizer? Sure, we already paid for it! Drinks? Diet Coke, please! Dessert? Heck, yeah! All this, plus tipping based on the value of the coupon, quickly emptied an already bare wallet.
  • The small print. I’m a busy lady, so I don’t always read the important stuff like terms and conditions. Too bad this is the place where Groupon/Living Social/Seize the Deal tells you the particulars of their vouchers, such as the locations at which you can redeem the deal (see top of post), whether it is only good for carry-out (you usually have to dine in), or if alcohol is included (never is).
  • I was locked in to eating only at the places for which I had a deal. For a while, I wouldn’t eat at a restaurant unless I had a voucher. Why eat at one location if I had a paid-for meal at another? For a food writer, this is no bueno. 

Are you in the no-online-coupon boat with me? Or do you love Groupon and the like? Take it to the comments!

[My Favorite Things] Cherry Coke Zero

I have an addiction. Don't judge me.

How do I even begin to describe my love of Cherry Coke Zero?

Should I start at the beginning, the first time I discovered this glorious, calorie-free concoction perched on a shelf, chilling away in a 20-ounce bottle, waiting for me to release it from the frozen confines of the Walgreens grocery aisle and into the cup holder of my Corolla?

Or do I start at the end, with the above picture, the result of a months-long addiction to fake sugary sweetness that can only be treated with MORE aforementioned fake sugary sweetness, especially when it  is on sale at my friendly neighborhood Kroger?

It wasn’t always like this. I was a Diet Coke fan for years. A cold, caffeinated beverage without the calories? Yes, please. Back then, I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know that something else, something even more delicious, was out there.

My infatuation with Diet Coke began to wane last year. The drink had gone from refreshing to flat. I needed something to wake up my taste buds, minus the guilt of the calories.

Then I found Coke Zero, endorsed by friends, but not as readily available as my old stand-by soft drink. I tasted Coke Zero, poured from a restaurant fountain spigot into an eager paper cup, and it set my mouth on fire — in a good way. There was just so much more flavor than its diet cousin. The fizz tickled my throat and left behind a lingering sweetness that confirmed that I was on to something.

Then I saw that bottle in Walgreens, the word “cherry” splashed across a Coke Zero label for which my eyes had learned to automatically search. Once it hit the lips, Cherry Coke Zero had me, for lack of a better word, sprung. I wanted it. I needed it. And it’s hard to come by, a slight obstacle that only added to the beverage’s allure.

I scoured Kroger after Kroger to find my own supply of Cherry Coke Zero, which I how I ended up lugging three cases into my home after a three for $11 deal I happened upon one week.

Having my own Cherry Coke Zero instead of just keeping my fingers crossed that it will be available in vending machines and restaurants has only made my infatuation worse. Just a couple of weeks ago, I may (or may not!) have bought FOUR cases during another Kroger sale. I blocked several shoppers in the soft drink aisle as I stuffed the cartons of Cherry Coke Zero into my tiny cart.

Is all this embarassing to admit, all this admiration for an inanimate object, a beverage no less?

Yes.

Is it worth it, for just one can of Cherry Coke Zero?

You betcha.

My Favorite Things: The tiny carts at Kroger

(Blogger’s note: Every once in a while, I come across something so awesome that I must shout it from the blogosphere. If Oprah can have her favorite things, why can’t I?

“My Favorite Things” is an occasional feature in which I gush about a product, store, gadget or other food-related item that has made my life a little sweeter.)

Oh, tiny cart. So petite, yet efficient.

I fell in love with Kroger’s tiny carts when I started living on my own and grocery shopping for one. I ust had to play a game of Goldilocks and the Three Bears to figure that out.

Kroger’s hand baskets are suitable until you decide that you HAVE to buy the 12-pack of Diet Coke. Then you end up with a Grand Canyon-sized dent in your arm. The regular-sized carts are hard to manuever, and lend themselves to some unneccessary purchases (why, yes, I WILL buy the three boxes of Raisin Bran Crunch that’s on sale — I have the room in my big girl cart!).

The tiny carts, however, are the Mini Coopers of consumerism. These tiny wonders are the perfect size for singles buying food just for themselves. They hug the curves as you round the corners of the aisle. And they’re just so darn cute.

These carts are usually stranded on the grassy knolls of parking lots or abandoned on the fringes near the streets. Cart collectors don’t make much of an effort to get these little guys back in the store because they don’t neatly fit into a row with their big brothers, the behemoths designed to haul both children and groceries. But if you’re single, or just need to pick up a few items, it’s worth a trip to the back of a parking lot to use one of these carts.