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Popular deals site BlackboardEats implements small fee for service

January 19, 2011 |  4:33 pm

MaggieNemser Gone are the days when you could be a glutton with your mouse and click on every deal that the foodie website BlackboardEats had on offer. The site, which launched in September of 2009 and offers discounts of up to 40% off tabs at top restaurants around town, is now charging $1 for each deal members sign up for.

The formerly free site is also offering an "all you can eat" membership that costs $20 per year and allows subscribers to sign up for unlimited deals. And for those who simply can't bring themselves to pay for the service, BBE will still send along the occasional free deal.

When the news about the site's new business model was announced earlier this week reaction was swift and divided, with some upset users saying that they would not pay, and others maintaining that $1 was still a steal for the promotional passcodes. (These codes are then used at participating restaurants to redeem a given deal.)

BBE founder Maggie Nemser says that the decision was not made quickly. "We did a lot of testing and asking and thinking through the possibilities. This one made the most sense to us."

The reason the site decided to charge, says Nemser, is that "We found that there was a lot of code collecting going on."

What that means is that once a promotion was clicked on a certain number of times, it capped out and no more passcodes were given out. Usually a particular deal capped out at 7,000 clicks, with a 10 to 20% redemption rate.

Now that subscribers have to think before they click the hope is that they will become more thoughtful about what they sign up for and that "people who are really interested in going to a restaurant get to go."

Three days into the new program, Nemser says that BBE has lost less than 1% of its subscribers and that it is still seeing plenty of redemptions. "Our forecast is that it won't change the number of people who actually go into the restaurant," says Nemser. Only now she expects that the redemption rate will climb to a number closer to 35%.

Another benefit of charging is that it allows BBE to survive financially while continuing to offer deals at quality restaurants like Rivera, Mozza2Go, Palate Food + Wine and Jar. Unlike sites like Groupon, BBE does not charge participating restaurants, so its offers are purely editorial.

"And we're not going to get rich off $1 per passcode," Nemser says.

--Jessica Gelt

Photo: Maggie Nemser. Credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times