Do You Have A Voucher For That?
“At what point in a relationship,” I pondered, as we placed the Taste Card on top of the bill and gestured to the waiter, “is it acceptable to use a two-for-one voucher?”
Perhaps once upon a time, in those halcyon days when double dip referred only to sherbet and politicians weren’t forced to limit their holiday plans to Devon, we might have balked at the idea of the discount voucher. Securing a good deal was one thing – but bothering to go to the website and print out a piece of paper advertising just how stingy you were? Surely that was beyond the pale?
Somewhere in the last five years, that has all changed. Who now would pay full price for a pizza at a high street chain? Who now would fork out for a spa treatment, food festival or cookery class without the nudging of Groupon? Cinema on any other night of the week than Wednesday – only for fools (and has anyone got an Orange code to hand?). Nowadays, we Google before we go, to ensure that we are getting the best deal possible.
The voucher revolution started with food, as Pizza Express and its myriad rivals worked out that the whiff of a discount would give us a craving for dough balls that we didn’t know we had. But it’s gone beyond that, embracing entertainment, travel, even clothes, as we are tempted by the siren calls of free delivery, ‘half price’ tickets and early booking discounts.
We choose bars for the deals they offer, rather than the quality of the booze. We take pride in being thrifty, in being one-up on the naive hotel guests who have paid full price rather than hedging their bets on Lastminute.com, Late Rooms, or Secret Hotels.
And what was once the preserve of the strapped-for-cash – students, pensioners with memories of rationing and disdainful opinions of modern profligacy, the time-wasters ahead of you in the checkout queue clutching armfuls of expired coupons on strips of tatty newspaper – is now a profoundly middle class pastime. The query ‘is it on Taste Card?’ no longer designates you a modern-day Scrooge; rather it signifies a savvy approach.
No doubt the recession is to blame, in that in a time of general belt-tightening, extravagance becomes vulgar, while parsimony is elevated to a virtue. For those with a smaller pot, the rise of the discount voucher has allowed at least a few of the frivolities of life to continue – fewer holidays to exotic locations, true, but still the odd sushi dinner. But the recession certainly hasn’t made everyone poorer, so there’s more to it than that. It’s surely a cultural shift, away from the ‘money talks’ attitude of past decades. The desire for a good deal is so pervasive now, such a routine part of middle class culture, that the prime minister’s wife and the Duchess of Cambridge boast about their high street steals and even the top broadsheets offer coupons for classy restaurants. And as technology has developed, the cumbersome need to print out vouchers at home has been superseded by cloud systems and digital barcodes, making thrift hassle-free.
Nowadays, when we are forced to pay ‘full price’, we resent it. We dip into our wallets with reluctance, with a sense of being cheated. We want our victories over the system, even if all that they represent are three measly courses for the price of two at Café Rouge.
We all know the feeling of having left the voucher at home, or lost it en route. Frustration, then disappointment and blame (who was supposed to have been responsible?), and finally resignation as you hand over the credit card to pay – shock horror – the official asking price.
We know, deep down, that it’s all an illusion; that sometimes it is cheaper, but that mostly the restaurants have cranked up the price of main courses to compensate for free starters, that it’s a bribe to make you fork out for a bottle rather than a glass. We know that the recession has hit all over, and that there really is no such thing as a free lunch – that the half-price manicure is only good value if we’d been planning to have it all along. And most of all, we know that we’re entering a deal with the devil, dooming ourselves to a daily deluge of emails offering yet-more too-good-to-be-true discounts.
Yet there’s no doubt about it. Frugal, these days, is fashionable. But a survey of dating friends reveals that while they have no qualms about using a two-for-one most of the time, doing so on a first date would diminish the likelihood of a second. Some things, it seems, are simply a step too far.