The Entertainment Book. Fun in the '80s.

There was a time before the Internet. Before Grub-Hub and Amazon, before Facebook and Tik-Tok. And it was before Groupon, the 2008 Chicago innovation that has had its ups and downs as it pioneered online discount offers. Before all these, it was the time of The Book.

I am not talking about the Holy Bible, though some of our friends saw it as such. It was the “Entertainment Book;” a softbound collection of coupons, published annually that was filled with two-for-ones and half-offs for (a few of) our favorite restaurants and (lots of) places with greasy floors and tables, sticky menus, and cheery “Opas” arising from waiters as they charred the next batch of saganaki.

The Book entered our lives via my mother, a member of ORT, a Jewish women’s group that sold the coupon book as a fundraiser. Since my birthday in early January coincided with the new book release for the year, my mother could kill two birds with one volume, getting a birthday gift for me while meeting her ORT quota. She knew it was a gift I couldn’t return.

For much of the early 1980s, The Book ruled our social life. Most of our friends, also the children of quota-seeking moms, had their copies as well. For Saturday night couples outings, restaurants were chosen with The Book in hand, and an eye to any blackout dates on the coupons.

At times The Book served us well. It became a tradition for Barb and me, along with three other coupon-laden couples to choose one Saturday night a year to corral a full table at Ichiban of Northbrook, our favorite teppanyaki restaurant. Our joyous reunions only ended when the restaurant site become the home of a Reform Jewish Congregation. It became clear we would never have another piece of tempura shrimp there.

The Book contained coupons for other things–bowling lanes and baseball games and the like. But it was the restaurants that comprised 85% of the coupon pages. And as I mentioned above, the restaurants were not necessarily of the 4-star variety. As our disposable income grew above pathology resident level, Barb and I made a pact not to choose a place to dine “just because it is in The Book.”

Eventually, many of my mother’s friends moved away, and she herself lost her mobility. Her Jewish volunteer groups faded into her past. My birthday gifts became 365 Daily-Page-A-Day Calendars, featuring Jeopardy questions or knock-knock jokes. None of them had two-for-one coupons in the back.

A quick Google search tells me that the Entertainment company, status-post a bankruptcy or two, still exists. Its product is of course now digital, Apple or Google Play apps readily available. But who wants an app for a birthday present from their mother?

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