How Old Is Old? How Old Is "Senior"? How Old Is "Discount"?

I’m trying to figure out if I got my 34-cent discount by looking old.

Posted Nov 01, 2018

I was automatically given the Senior Citizens’ discount at Dunkin’ Donuts recently. The age twenty-something server behind the counter, in what I am sure was an act of sincere generosity coupled with an even more sincere desire to keep the long line moving, didn’t ask whether I wanted it or whether I qualified. She just factored it in.

"Oh no!” shrieked a sensitive and impressionable younger friend, for whom, at 32, automatic senior citizenship seems like an impossibly distant and heartbreaking benchmark.

“But I saved 34 cents,” I replied. “That’s 34 cents I can put toward my retirement account.”  

“But you’re not old enough to qualify for the Dunkin senior discount, are you?” she asks, eyes full of wonder. “You’re, like, just past 60.”

Because she is a young person, however, I asked the following magical question: “How about if you look it up on your phone?”  

This is what she found: after searching the Dunkin’ Donuts website, she found a deeply buried mention of the amount anywhere between 5 percent and 10 percent.  

I wasn’t satisfied. This is what happens as you get older: certain details become increasingly important, which is why the word “curmudgeon” is rarely linked to the under-40 population.

I located the phone extension for our local Dunkin branch and made a call.  

(Curiously, my younger friend was vaguely appalled by this act because, apparently, nobody her age calls anybody anymore. She was practically engaged to her companion before they spoke on the phone; they had texted for months and signed a lease together before hearing each other’s voices across a phone line.)

When I reached a manager, I asked how old a person has to be to take advantage of Dunkin Donuts's Senior Citizen’s discount. She replied off-handedly, “Oh, it’s, like, fifty.”  

I thanked her and called another Dunkin location a few miles away and was told the age was “around sixty.” So I asked whether there was any way I could find out for sure.  

Apparently annoyed, the associate with whom I was speaking that requested I “Please hold,” and covered the receiver with her hand. It was obvious that she asked guy standing next to her what to do.  

Their muffled conversation went something like this:

Girl: I have a lady who wants to know how old you have to be to get the discount.

Guy: The discount? For old people?

Girl: Yeah.

Guy: It’s, like, sixty-five, isn’t it?

Girl: Yeah, but she wants to know for sure.

Guy: It’s sixty-five.

Girl: No, I mean, she wants to know the real age.

Guy: She wants to find out the “real age”? What “real age”?

The guy took the receiver. “Ma’am, it’s about fifty-five.”  

“So, there’s not a technical point at which a person qualifies?” I asked.

“It’s about fifty-five. Or sixty-five.”

“Ah. Thanks.” I left the conversation at that.

As you might imagine, this took quite a while. During this time, my younger friend had moved on, ended her engagement, got out of the lease, and started a new relationship via Tinder.

Meanwhile, I’m there trying to figure out if I got my 34-cent discount under false pretenses. What I’m really trying to figure out is whether I look older than I am.

Finally, I called the corporate headquarters and was told that since every Dunkin store is a franchise, separately owned and operated, each sets their own Senior Citizen threshold.  Basically, it’s up to the discretion of the store manager and if the managers don’t set guidelines, it’s up to the cashier on duty.

Towards the end of my conversation with the woman at corporate headquarters, she announces in all good cheer, “If you have an AARP card and buy a large or extra-large coffee, you know you get a free donut, right?”  

Initially, I’d been unnerved by the (gasp!) assumption I might look my age. But as soon as the corporate woman said those words, all I wanted was the nine years’ worth of caffeine and sugar I’d missed, dietary items I do not believe have been scientifically proven to mitigate the signs of aging.

Like Honey Glazed Rockettes, free donuts danced across my mind’s stage. They all looked around my age—and none the worse for it.