The Great Gift Card Debate

The Great Gift Card Debate

If you’re a loyal diner, impulsive stress-shopper, or just a generous person, you probably purchased at least one gift card since the shut-down started in March. Restaurants (and retailers) desperately needed an influx of cash and we did our best to step up to support our favorite spots when they needed it most. I use the past tense with hesitation because gift cards can still go a long way in helping a restaurant catch its breath, and there’s no reason to stop buying them. Either way, this was/is an important way for regulars to connect with their favorite establishments and show some love in a time of need, and while it’s not a fix-all solution, it can make a difference.

When I started purchasing gift cards, I briefly wondered what would happen if the place I’m buying from never reopens. The sad reality is that at any moment, a business might decide to call it quits. Frankly, all things considered, I wouldn’t blame them. It didn’t take me long to conclude that this wasn’t really a dilemma at all. Like many of you that considered this potential outcome, I said “Fuck it, I’m doing it anyway.” And before I knew it my inbox was cluttered with digital e-cards.

But, now that we own this form of currency, there’s an ethical quandary. Even if the restaurant reopens, when will it be ok for us to use these gift cards? After all, the last thing we want to do is cause a restaurant to shell out product without receiving cash in exchange, because they still need the money desperately. It could take well over a year for a restaurant to start comfortably earning again.

And how are we really to know when that point has come for each establishment? In the Larry David-like world in which I sometimes live, restaurants would be required to let us know with a huge sign that reads something like, “It’s ok to use your gift cards now.” Maybe in neon, next to the hours on the door? I floated this idea by a friend of mine that owns a restaurant, and they said it was “tacky.” Ok, fine…

I’m curious what others think about this. Should we shred these gift cards and consider our purchases a total act of kindness? Should we be saving these gift cards for what could be several years? If so, how do we know the right time to use them? Should we donate them to our front-line workers? This seems like an obvious thing to do, but given the cash flow implications for restaurants, maybe it’s not.

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

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