Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Deal or No Deal?

You know what? I like a bargain, me. Put it down to my frugal northern roots or that feminine intuition that kicks in around the 1st January (and again about 6 months later), but nothing gives me more satisfaction than getting something that I want for not a lot of money.
This doesn’t mean that I buy things just because they are cheap. I like to think that I am savvy enough to only part with my hard earned cash when it is in exchange for something that I really want, or need. Just because those canary yellow hot pants are only a pound does not make them an investment. And although it is tempting to snap up yet another five course meal followed by laser hair removal via Groupon on a daily basis, you can end up with more beauty deals and nights out than you can fit into your diary.
That isn’t to say that I am immune to the charms of Groupon. I have succumbed a few times, I admit. There’s been my bi-yearly mani/pedi, a team lunch in a local gastro pub, a massage and, most recently, a champagne afternoon tea with my friend.
Okay, so afternoon tea is not exactly a necessity, but after a stressful few months at work my chum and I felt the need for a little treat. And, at £12 a head it seemed more than reasonable. So, last Friday we headed over to the Rafayel Hotel on the Left Bank. We arrived full of high expectations – okay so champagne tastes good anywhere, but sandwiches, pastries and tea in a five-star hotel was sure to be a real delight, right?
Well, you’d think, anyway.
Alarm bells began to ring when our sandwiches arrived. It didn’t bother me too much that the staff didn’t tell us what was in them, even if it would have been quite nice to have been in the know rather than having to peel back the bread and sniff the various gooey fillings to find out. But... the bread was stale. Not massively stale, but it was quite clear these sandwiches had not just been rustled up for us and had in fact been hanging around for some time.
Slightly disappointed, we waited for our cake stand to arrive. I looked lovely, loaded with scones, berries, cakes, and... Hang on, what was that? Well, it was pink and gooey, but not necessarily in a good way. When our tea arrived I politely enquired as to that the said item actually was. The waiter looked a little confused and said he would find out for us. Sadly, when we called him over two minutes later (because, erm, our MILK WAS OFF), he hadn’t had a chance to find out. He did however make a valiant effort to convince us that he hadn’t brought us off milk, but it was in fact double cream. You know, that really thin smelly variety.
So, when a different member of staff reappeared with a fresh supply of milk I asked her to help us solve our mystery. She just shrugged and said she didn’t know. And we were expected to eat this unidentified object.
By this point we were finding the whole situation decidedly amusing. It became a game to see how many waiters would fob us off rather than actually admit that maybe there was something wrong with our refreshments. So I was a little bemused when the next chap I collared actually took away the offending object and replaced it with a really rather pretty raspberry macaroon.
I have to admit that we didn’t bother to complain – although we certainly would have done if we had paid the full £30 a head the Rafayel usually charges for this sloppy service. Needless to say we won’t be going back, though. It makes me wonder why businesses bother with such deals – surely the point is to get the punters in, impress them with your product and welcome them back in the future as customers who are willing to pay top whack? Or am I missing something?
Sadly this isn’t the only business I know of which has fallen into this trap. In fact, I don’t think I would go back to the spa where I had my massage even if it was on offer again. But that doesn’t mean that others don’t get it right. Later that same Friday I went to one of the London Zoo “Lates” – think an evening at the zoo with no kids but plenty of food, drink and a silent disco. It was great night – made even better by the fact that I get the tickets for better than half price on Living Social. A true bargain – and the same experience that I would have had if I'd paid the full 18 quid. Now that is what I call a good deal.
So, the moral of the story? Pick your special offers carefully. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. That isn’t to say that there aren’t some real gems out there. Just don’t expect too much – that way you won’t be disappointed. Or, even better, you might even be pleasantly surprised.

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