Using Groupons on a Date: Timely Enough to be Cool, or An Absolute No-No?

The Beam

Over the summer, I attended a WordPress meetup for the free barbecue. The place was a meat market in more ways than one.

One of the few women in attendance was my friend The Beam, who got hit on by a developer from Living Social, the instant coupon company. His pickup line went something like this: “We have a two-for-one deal to Regal [movie theaters] right now, if you’d want to go…”

So I couldn’t help but wonder*: With the proliferation of Groupon and Groupon-wannabes, is it now cool to use coupons on a date?

I like to ponder these vexing relationships-in-a-digital-age questions, so I started doing some reporting. A quick search online led me to plenty of heated debates and conflicting blog posts, and the people I trust, like Friend Matt, were just as undecided about it as I was:

Is it attractively frugal? Retro enough to be hipster? Or just cheap? Is there a threshold — 10% off is lame but 2-for-1 is worth it?

Like any relationship exploration, what works for one couple doesn’t work for others, la la la. And let’s assume that we are unpacking this idea for early-stage couples, because I know my partner-of-eight-years would not think twice about using a Groupon for a two-for-one deal at Popeye’s Chicken with me, and vice versa. So let’s focus on fledgling relationships. The various approaches:

Using Coupons is a Cop Out
In this school of thought, the basic expectation of a date is to be entertained in a creative way, with plans unaffected by the possibility of discounts. So using a Groupon is creatively devoid. Here’s my conversation with “Megan,” my single gal tester on these subjects (who you may recall from my internet stalking exploration):

Megan: Cheap and uncreative. Because are you picking the place just because you have a coupon?
Me: What if it’s a cool place that happens to be offering a coupon? It’s sort of nuanced, the choosing of a date location, no?
Megan: The context is important.
Me: I am taking my friend to (insert activity here) for her birthday partly because I was inspired by the Living Social deal. Isn’t that the point of these things, to give you ideas?
Morgan: But you have a pre-existing relationship with her.

Using Coupons is Cheap, Especially in the Short Term
The argument goes like this: Seriously, not only are men less chivalrous than ever, they aren’t even willing to wine and dine you without a two-for-one dinner deal? Much like undertipping, this could be a bad sign of how generous or giving your mate is, in general. (As Gawker put it: “You’re going to pull out a bag full of coupons at our first date, at The Olive Garden? Get the fuck outta here.”) Using a coupon on a first date can be an instant turn-off.

Coupon Usage is Great in Long Term Mate
There really is a time threshold at play here. At some point, unless your potential partner is the newly-single Kobe Bryant, you’ll likely want to know that he can manage his money and is not spending his way into a vortex of no return. Coupon usage signals financial responsibility. My BFF Sudeep never pays full price when he doesn’t have to, so he never meets me for lunch without having a coupon for our meeting spot. I find this annoying yet endearing, as he is also my emergency medical contact and the one I trust to guide me on major purchases, investment accounts and the general state of global markets. Great long-term mate material, right?

Groupons Are Hot Right Now
What clearer sign of our recessionary, digitally dynamic times do we need than our inboxes runnething over with daily deals? Groupons are an “it” consumer thing right now, like cupcakes were in 2009, or pork belly in 2010. Since the commercialization of couponing is now cool, maybe using them with new mates can be cool, too. I’m partly sold on this argument, because I do value people who are culturally literate and digitally with-it. I think I would judge you favorably for finding some deal from a new online competitor to Groupon and sharing it with me on a date, mainly so I could learn of the new competitor.

The Threshold Question
You’ll recall that Friend Matt wanted to know whether there’s a threshold to cross in order to actually use the coupon on a first date or a beginning of a relationship. So we have to consider how great the deal is. How much are you really saving? I suggest a rough rubric to evaluate, starting with 0 points:

Plus 5 if it’s a 50% off or more deal
Minus 3 if it’s anything less than 50% off
Plus 2 for the novelty factor — add the points if the coupon is introducing you to something like trapezing or court reporting
Minus 5 if you wouldn’t otherwise go to the restaurant or bar without the coupon because the place is lame

If you wind up in the negative territory, don’t use the Groupon on a date.

Using Coupons as an Impetus for a Date
While the dates offered by Groupons may not be creative, you can potentially use the concept of a coupon deal as a stealth way to GET a date. This is a modern play on the make-a-bet-you-know-you’ll-lose-with-dinner-as-the-stakes approach. The Groupon-infused version works thusly: Purchase two tickets to something with a Groupon. Then, approach dating target and say, “Hey, I have this Groupon that is going to expire, why don’t we go to X?” This allows you to pretend to really need someone and get a date without formally asking for it. When I first learned of this, I didn’t think this was so different from The Beam story I mentioned earlier, in which the guy sounded lame. So the corollary to this approach is it only works if you already have a casual relationship with the person you’d like to date.

So I guess we’ve kind of arrived at an answer: If your date is using a novel, Groupon-competitor’s coupon that offers a more than 50% off discount to a place that he would go to without a coupon, and you think you’d want this date as a long-term mate, or you kinda already knew him and he backed into asking you out with the digital discount to a non-sucky place, using a coupon on a date is cool. In all other cases, it’s probably not awesome, at least not yet.

*Yes, I realize I worked in a signature Carrie Bradshaw turn of phrase. It was a call back, OK?

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