Eat Your Way Through the Recession: A Poor Man's Guide to Snagging Free Food
I think you know the answer.
This irritating balancing act has unfortunately messed with my social life too. The final cocktail straw for me! After declining yet another invite to a happy hour (which admittedly provokes booze-soaked laziness, which leads to a costly dinner, which leads to pangs of guilt afterward), I was determined to find a way to at least maintain the façade of a fabulous lifestyle while not having to suffer from "empty wallet syndrome."
And then it hit me like an out-of-control Budweiser delivery truck.
There are ways to enjoy a libation like the rest of the civilized world whilst also filling my belly. For free.
Forget the basic happy hour and that germ-filled bowl of shared bar snacks. Man cannot live on Goldfish alone! You need some proper eats. You need my tricks.
Here I list a handful of places to go -- and people to know -- to get the most bang from your buck while not appearing like a cheap schmuck.
1) Get to Know a Realtor.
Despite the housing-market slump, realtors still know how to party. The secret to garnering an invite to these private shindigs is to know a realtor. They hold schmoozefests called a "Broker's Open." Don't let the stuffy, business-like term fool you -- I've seen many a lampshade worn as a hat at these functions.
In the realtors' world, the Broker's Open is an opportunity to view a newly listed property, rub elbows, pass out cards, powwow about the price, and yakkety-yak about office gossip. It's also a free-for-all of wine, liquor, and food. The eats are typically way better than warm cubes of cheese and dry carrot sticks, as a hosting realtor can face career-breaking ridicule for a pathetic array of nibbles. To gain access, you may, as a guest, have to go incognito as a potential buyer, so arrive not just with hunger pangs but with acting chops and a few "oohs" and "aahs." I've lied about worse things for less, and you know you have too.
2) Say "Aloha" to a Complimentary Buffet
Come Hump Day, when the need for release scratches at you like a bad rash, the local Polynesian staple for more than 50 years, Mai-Kai, offers just what the witch doctor ordered. Every day (except Mondays and Tuesdays in October, when they're closed) Mai-Kai's Molokai Bar offers a happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m. with half off appetizers and drinks, including the notorious Barrel o' Rum.
While that may be enough encouragement for some to cross their wooden-planked entryway, thrifty folks like me have long known about Wednesdays at Mai-Kai. Sure, you can get ripped on a Barrel because you planned to anyway, but to alleviate some of the punch from the punch, from 5 to 9 p.m., they roll out the buffet table loaded with complimentary -- such a beautiful word -- sushi rolls and various fried delights. No need to pay for dinner now! Load up on rolls and rum and you're on a tropical vacation -- no airfare required!
3) Don't Let "Ladies Night" Deter You.
Coco Asian Bistro offers a happy hour every day from 4 to 7 p.m. with two-for-one martinis and house beer and wine. It also has a petite array of delicious, complimentary, Asian-inspired appetizers. You may have to duke it out with 9-to-5ers who have staked claim to the chafing dish area, but trust me -- it's worth the fight.
The real deal, however, is on Thursdays, billed as "ladies night," when Coco's plugs in live tunes and provides free glasses of wine to guests on the sidewalk patio. It may be called a "tasting" to them, but for me, it's called a night out with entertainment, a decent buzz, and good eats. Plus, I depart Coco's unlike most of the other gentleman clientele: with a full wallet.
4) Go Ahead, Be a Pig.
If you've made it to the end of the workweek unscathed and you still crave a deal, Aruba Beach Cafe offers Festive Fridays with -- get this! -- a complimentary pig roast! The only requirement is a two-drink purchase -- during an already affordable happy hour with two-for-one drinks from 4 to 7 p.m. That gets you a slice of Porky and an ocean breeze. Admittedly a pig on a spit is not the happiest-looking creature, PETA would not approve, and you may want to avoid asking your vegetarian friends to join you -- but hey, they aren't paying your bills, and you do have to eat, right?
5) Cart? I Don't Need No Stinking Cart.
Say it's a strict day and you've allotted yourself no more than a ten spot. No restaurant today. But there's always the neighborhood grocery store.
I fancy Publix, but at this time of year, with holidays approaching, most grocery stores abound with food and wine sampling tables. Be on the hunt for the tables with the overly friendly, semiknowledgeable, faux-sommeliers with a bottle opener in their pocket and a shot-sized plastic cup awaiting your parched lips.
Perhaps the food tables are sparse. Don't be embarrassed to be a repeat offender at their table. Kill them with kindness: Say, "It's just sooooo good, I had to try some more!" Then hit the deli! Ask for a slice of Boar's Head. It might be the best slab of meat to ever enter your mouth, but turn your nose up with fake disgust. Then ask for a taste of something else you refuse to spend $7.59 for a whole pound on. Mix it up: "May I sample the Pepperjack, please?" Then stop by the bakery, ask for a stale bun, and you've practically got a sub.
Dinner is served, the wallet is full, and so are you!