A Cheap But Painful DateS

VillageVines.com will shave 30 percent off fancy restaurant meals without a tacky coupon—the discount is discretely applied to your bill. But, oh, the hoops you'll have to jump through. It's the online discount club model taken too far.

As described in the New York Times, VillageVines is the latest in a growing line of "save money by working your butt off" businesses, many of them operated by the fast-growing Gilt Groupe. But where Gilt Groupe has applied its high-end-Costco model to luxury handbags, travel and men's and women's clothes, VillageVines applies its model to local food places, where you'll feel the cost of the site's restrictions much more frequently.

In that, it's like Groupon, a service that sends a daily local business coupon via email. As with Groupon's daily email-peltings — which have to be read and, usually, deleted—VillageVines comes with lots of overhead for the discount. First, you have to sign up for a membership. Then, you have to pay $10 per reservation. Finally, you've got to pick a restaurant off the site's list, and one that's available on the day in which you're interested. Most places aren't offering the discounts on weekends, including flagship offerings Butter, Kittichai and the Russian Tea Room. And when the bill comes, you better hope the waiter remembered to apply the discount—and don't even think about shaving from his tip.

It seems like a lot of pain for not enough gain. But then again, for the right date, is any amount of work too much?