Overnight, coronavirus has forced restaurants and bars to shut down and revamp their business models. While some have shifted to takeout and delivery, not all establishments can do this. That's where the Dining Bond Initiative comes in.
Launched on March 12, it was inspired by war bonds, which the United States government sold during both World Wars. During WWII, you could buy war bonds at 75% of their face value and they would mature over ten years. Say you bought a war bond for $75, a decade later you could cash it in for $100. These bonds helped the U.S. government fund the conflict and offered citizens an investment with a relatively safe return.
Dining bonds work in a similar way although perhaps with less security. You put money in the hands of local restaurants right now and receive a gift card that you can use for food and drink once the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.
New York-based publicists Steven Hall and Helen Patrikis, who have many clients in the hospitality industry, including restaurants Carmine's and Aquavit, founded the Dining Bond Initiative.
"We were dealing with the early stages of this crisis and recognizing that many of our clients were going to be in dire circumstances," Patrikis says.
At the time, businesses hadn't faced mass closures.
As Hall and Patrikis brainstormed fundraising ideas, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a pandemic and they were inspired by the way restaurant patrons responded.
"We saw people asking if they could buy gift cards somewhere. There were a lot of questions about it, so we really got into the spirit of a war bond or savings bond where people could provide support now," Patrikis says.
The Dining Bond Initiative is more of a loose collective branding than a formal program but the core idea is the same among participating restaurants.
These establishments offer a value-added gift certificate, aka a dining bond, that can be redeemed at a later date.
"In this unprecedented 'medical wartime,' the idea with dining bonds is similar to a wartime savings bond. If restaurants sell a bond at a discounted rate today, say $75, it would be redeemable for $100 in the future," says Connie Wang, managing director of the Hotel Figueroa, where the restaurants Veranda and Breva are participating.
In Southern California, at least two dozen bars and restaurants have joined the program.
Dining bonds differ from restaurant to restaurant. Each has its own price, redeemable value and design. Dining bonds are meant to be purchased from individual restaurants and are not universal.
Hall and Patrikis stress that they aren't selling dining bonds or administering the program -- it's up to each participating restaurant to handle that on their own -- they're just trying to bring more attention to the campaign and, hopefully, help restaurants weather the coronavirus storm.
"If more people know about it, more people will be able to go and buy," Hall says.
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As for the restaurants themselves, participation is simple. All they need to do is fill out a form on the Dining Bond Initiative site and add a page or link on their own website where consumers can buy dining bonds. Hall and Patrikis will send restaurants a branding package.
Participation is already growing. What started among a small group of New York restaurants has grown to include 200 restaurants across the United States.
"We even have a restaurant from Jackson Hole, Wyoming on there. That was one of the first restaurants to reach out when we launched the site," Hall says.
Restaurants in COVID-19 hotspots such as Italy and Spain have expressed interest.
"We're all about historical Los Angeles and they're like war time bonds," saysv 1933 Group co-owner Dimitri Komarov. His company is known for detail-oriented revivals of historic venues including the Formosa Cafe and the Idle Hour in North Hollywood.
Since most of their establishments are bars, the food component of the 1933 Group's business is small so takeout isn't much of an option for them. This is a way for them to keep revenue trickling in.
But Dining Bonds aren't without risk.
"Some of these restaurants may not come back, but I feel people are going into this with the knowledge that they are contributing toward what's needed now," Patrikis says.
"The impetus of the idea was that even if it's a small amount of money, that may help pay a staff member or a small bill," Hall adds.
Restaurants are often called to help with fundraisers and charity events, or to aid in relief efforts after tragedies. "Now, we're asking people to return the favor," Hall says.