“Did you ask the owner for a discount?” Dipankar asked.
“No,” I said. “Why would I do that?”
“Because that’s what you do.” And then Dipankar walked up to the owner, asked, and received.
It was August, 2007. To celebrate the end of my trial month at my company’s Indian office, I had invited my coworkers to join me at a seedy restaurant near GK II for a farewell-for-now; in two months I would return to Delhi, my bags bursting and my wife by my side. Perhaps a dozen of us had gathered for beer and snacks; enough, in Dipankar’s mind, to warrant some special consideration. So he explained to the owner that of all the restaurants in all the neighborhoods in all of Delhi, I had chosen to gather my friends at this one; and wasn’t that worth something to us?
And it was indeed: 10% off our food bill.
I whooped with joy, not for the money but for what it meant: in this country, a number written on a piece of paper means nothing. At restaurants, at hotels, at appliance shops and vegetable stores, all you have to do is ask. “How much does it cost for non-guests to use the swimming pool? Oh. Is there a discount for the off-season? OK, great!”
You don’t even need a reason for the discount. When you’re buying a teapot, just asking “Is there a discount?” is enough to land 10% off.
On Friday night, it all came full circle. Jenny and I gathered a number of friends at a dingy restaurant in Defense Colony to celebrate our imminent departure from Delhi. As the first few guests arrived, I put my learnings into practice.
“Excuse me,” I said to the head waiter. “I’m bringing a number of friends to this place tonight. Is there any discount for us?”
“Yes,” he said immediately. “Two-for-one hard alcohol drinks.”
“What about beer? We’ll be drinking a lot of beer.”
“Yes, 30% off of beer.”
I returned to my seat, triumphant. Although we would soon order far more drinks than we would have without the discount, and the generous tip we conspicusously left for the head waiter more than ate up our savings, the triumph was not dulled. I have learned from India: to save money, all you have to do is ask.