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As Americans head to Europe in droves for the usual summer high-season, Madrid-based TPG contributor Lori Zaino fills us in on a great website both for finding authentic, quality meals in Spain and France, as well as getting huge discounts off your bill.
Ever have that experience where you are traveling in Europe, your kids are getting cranky, your spouse is getting hungry…and you just don’t really know where to eat? Then you end up in a tourist trap of a restaurant with overpriced, boring food along with the rest of the Americans in town?
Or maybe you are being price-conscious since the dollar is not currently holding a ton of value against the euro but you still want an authentic meal for decent price?
These are just typical travel woes that can hit the best of us – even to the most experienced traveler – when traveling in Europe this summer. And it’s not hard to overpay for meals there, which can drive up the cost of your trip exponentially, especially if you are feeding a whole family.
However, you can avoid this and also get great discounts with the online website, The Fork, which has restaurant listings and negotiated discounts in cities throughout France, Spain, Switzerland and Monaco. However the company will be expanding to more countries soon since it’s been widely successful so far.
In France, Switzerland and Monaco it’s called La Fourchette, and El Tenedor in Spain. Call it what you like, but it’s a system that allows locals and tourists alike to dine at all sorts of restaurants and get discounts of anywhere from 30-50% off.
The Fork enables customers to make restaurant reservations online in many cities within these four participating countries, and if the restaurant offers a promotion or discount, you receive that once you dine automatically. No coupon printouts, no paying ahead of time, just make the reservation online and you will receive the offered discount.
How it Works
Visit www.thefork.com, then choose your country and city. You can then search some/all of these requisites: neighborhood, zip code, cuisine, name of restaurant, date, time and of course mark the box that will show the restaurants with the best promotions (50% off) first.
You will then see a list come up. You can browse through the restaurants and see pictures, prices, maps and directions and menu items. You can also read reviews and opinions by other “Fork” users. The site has over 7,000 restaurants and over 1 million user reviews you can look through.
You can reserve for the day of, or up to a month or two in advance (this can vary depending on the restaurant and how long the current discount is valid for) for anywhere from 1 to 10 people (again, the number of people can also vary per restaurant). No printouts are generated and no credit card numbers required for a guarantee. All you need to make a reservation is open an account with your email, name, phone number and your password. Once you make your reservation, you immediately receive an email and a text message confirmation. You never have contact the restaurant directly.
Need to cancel? Just go online and cancel your reservation. Or, more uncouthly, you could just not show up and you will not be penalized or charged in any way like you would be with OpenTable. But that’s not the way to be a “good ambassador” while traveling abroad, so be considerate and cancel online.
Let’s say you make a reservation at a restaurant offering 50% off. The discount terms may say it is applied only to those in the party orders an appetizer and main course OR a main course and a dessert. However, if one person orders just a main dish and another person in your party orders an appetizer, main dish and dessert, this also works because 4 dishes have been ordered between the two people. Generally restaurants just apply it in my experience. The discount does not include beverages.
Once you arrive at the restaurant, no need to even say a word, though some restaurants will confirm you made your reservation through The Fork. The discount should appear on your bill automatically. You can even do it without others in your party knowing you’ve gotten a great discount!
Here are a few sample searches, one in Paris and one in Madrid. In each one I selected a specific zip code, cuisine, promotion, date, time and number of people in my party.
I have used this website in Madrid about 25 times, always getting 40-50% off. So far I have never had a bad experience. Obviously some restaurants were better than others, but that’s what the reviews are for, and it has been a wonderful way to get to know more restaurants in different neighborhoods of the city that I wouldn’t have tried otherwise. I’ve even returned already to some of my favorites!
I’ve eaten at Spanish, French, Moroccan, sushi, Asian, Argentinean, and Italian restaurants. I’ve gone with just one other person and with groups of 4, 8 and 10 people. I’ve paid as little as 22 dollars for a full meal including wine and up to about 38 dollars with the discount applied, so the options truly run the gamut.
What surprised me about this system was the ease it which it functions. No need for Groupon printouts, paying ahead of time, I’ve never had to remind any of the waiters of the discount, never had horrible food or nasty service. I am really looking forward to using this website in the fall in Paris and during other trips throughout Spain in the future, and I tell all my visiting friends to use it too since it means they can save some money for other things during their European vacation like concert tickets, spa treatments and, of course, shopping.
Choose The Right Credit Card
When it’s time to pay for your discounted meal, still be smart about it and be sure to use a credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees such as the Amex Platinum, the Ink Bold, or the Capital One Venture card. Even better, use your Chase Sapphire Preferred to earn 2X points per $1 you spend (really 2.14 points per $1 factoring in the annul 7% points dividend).
Buen provecho, bon appetit, and happy saving!