By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Feb 28, 2010 at 4:33 PM
There's nothing wrong with coupon books, either the small ones you buy or the free ones that show up in your mailbox. But there's nothing particularly fun about them, either.

Enter City Tins, the brainchild of Milwaukee marketing consultant Christin Cilento Ladky and her business partner, Tara Laatsch.

For $25, City Tins are a unique pack of 22 Milwaukee dining gift certificates, each for $10 off your tab. They're printed on cardboard coasters, creatively designed and emblazoned with great photography. They come in a metal tin with a "dinner spinner," which promises to help solve your dining dilemma.

It's really not much more complicated than that, and the coasters aren't subject to black-out dates. Only one coaster can be used per table, and a minimum purchase of $25 is required. They can't be used on tax or tip.

Ladky hopes, at this price point, they'll make the perfect gift.

"I think $25 is a nice retail number that says seems to work for people," says Ladky.

So what makes City Tins more fun than a typical coupon book?

Value aside, it doesn't hurt that City Tins feature 22 of the area's best and most eclectic cuisine, including COA, Hinterland, Kil@wat, Nakakusa and Water Buffalo. According to Ladky, the Diablos Rojos restaurants -- Café Hollander, Café Centraal and Troacadero -- were the first to jump on board.

But why 22 restaurants?

Says Ladky, "We wanted to cut it off at 20, but two restaurants really wanted in. We made that concession -- but ultimately, it was how many coasters we could fit in a tin."

In other words, this is not a coupon book for $1 off your drycleaning when you purchase $100 worth of alterations.

"We're kind of the ‘anti entertainment book,'" says Ladky. "That's meant to bring a boatload of anything for everyone."

Instead, for now, City Tins focuses only on great Milwaukee restaurants.

"This is the kind of coupon that you're not embarrassed to use."

Ladky hopes to expand the City Tins concept into other genres, too.

Logical offshoots include nightlife and entertainment, but for now, the partners have their hands full. They do all the work themselves, from sales to design to photography to assembling "dinner spinners," mostly in Ladky's basement. She says the restaurants pay a participation fee to cover the costs of development, but her primary source of revenue is through retail sales.

And business is booming. Ladky released the tins last summer and so far has sold more than 500 tins.

"I love the process, and the restaurants' response has been wonderful," says Ladky.

"It's about the art, it's about the kitschiness and it's about promoting the city in a creative way," says Ladky, who got the idea from other cities that make coupon books out of decks of cards.

City Tins are available boutiques and restaurants across the area, including Beans & Barley, Locker's Florist, Goldi's and Well Spa.

Ladky also sells City Tins online at citytins.com.

Andy is the founder and co-owner of OnMilwaukee.com. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.