Restaurants sell ‘dining bonds’ during coronavirus pandemic

Takeout doesn’t drastically help restaurant industry: Cameron Mitchell Restaurants CEO

Cameron Mitchell Restaurants founder and CEO Cameron Mitchell says his sales were soaring before coronavirus forced him to shutter his businesses.

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Restaurants across the country are turning to a new way to use an old tool to help keep their employees paid during the coronavirus pandemic: dining bonds.

Like war bonds sold during World War II, these bonds allow someone to “invest” a certain amount of money for a greater value later. But instead of receiving cash, dining bond owners can redeem their holdings for food worth more than they originally paid for.

The Atlanta restaurant chain gusto! is accepting $100 for gift cards worth $150 that can be redeemed starting in July or $200 for $350 gift cards redeemable starting in September. Gusto! has brought in more than $20,000 via the bonds, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported.

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“One hundred percent of the revenue generated from our gusto! Dining Bonds will go towards keeping our Team Members employed, and without them, we can’t serve you,” the restaurant wrote on Facebook.”

Since closing its dining rooms under orders from Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, gusto!’s sales have fallen by 70 percent this month, according to the report. However, the establishment does offer take-out and delivery services that are helpful during the pandemic.

"Our catering folks are delivery drivers now," owner Nate Hybl told the publication. "Some of our prep and kitchen folks are actually adapting and making food. The labor models are changing dynamically every day."

Before the coronavirus, Hybl said he was close to launching a sixth location. However, that opening is unclear as the virus continues to spread throughout the United States. Nearly 63,000 Americans have been infected, according to data from the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker.

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Hybl is confident, though, that when his sixth restaurant opens, the chain will employ around 250 people. His company hasn’t laid off anyone either, but between 20 and 30 percent of his workforce has reportedly been affected by having reduced hours.

The website SupportRestaurants.org has compiled a map of more than 300 restaurants across the U.S. that are offering similar dining bonds.

“For restaurants, many of whom are small businesses and are in serious risk of shutting their doors permanently due to this crisis, the bonds can bring in much needed revenue,” the website states. “And for us, the public, they're a chance to show love and support, ensuring the future of some of their favorite restaurants, not to mention the many people who may be forced out of work.”

An untold number of restaurants have been forced to close due to the pandemic, costing many jobs. Many that remain open are only accepting takeout and delivery orders.

Food delivery driver Dori McGuire Guy wears a protective mask as she loads a take-out order into her car at the Pike Place Market Friday in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

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For restaurants that have closed, reopening will come with steep costs, according to restaurateur Cameron Mitchell. He told FOX Business’ Cheryl Casone earlier this week that a standstill of 30-90 days could cost more than $100,000 for a restaurant to reopen.

Mitchell’s company furloughed 4,500 employees as a result of the pandemic.

“It’s been a horrific situation,” he said. “And I like to say there’s no contingency plan for the unimaginable.”

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