Restaurant Programs Aim to Save Industry From Virus Devastation

The hit to New York’s restaurant industry from the novel coronavirus has been fast and devastating.

A series of events that started on March 13, when several of the city’s most famous dining rooms—Le Bernardin, Daniel, and Smith & Wollensky, to name a few—announced they were closing indefinitely, has culminated in an order from Mayor Bill de Blasio to close all the city’s restaurants and bars. Starting at 9 a.m. on March 17, restaurants will be open only for delivery and takeout. Similar rules have been put in place in states including Illinois, Massachusetts, and Ohio, as well as in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. 

In response, industry activists are working to support imperiled, independently owned restaurants. Dining Bonds is an initiative started by hospitality executives. The model is simple: A $100 “bond” will be sold for $75 and can be cashed in for full value after the redemption date. (The money, however, is nonrefundable in the event that a restaurant closes permanently.)

“It is meant to evoke the feeling of a wartime savings bond, which is what the industry feels like right now. Customers are investing in the future,” says Helen Patrikis of HR-PR and co-founder of the initiative with Steven Hall, president of Hall PR. The value of each bond, which is essentially a discounted gift certificate, will be determined by individual restaurants. Dining Bonds connects the diner and the restaurant; the restaurant’s landing page will have a designated place for the transaction.

The program goes live on March 16. Almost three dozen restaurants have signed up, including James Beard-nominated Adda Indian Canteen and Japanese sando specialists Hi-Collar in New York, as well as Million Dollar Cowboy Steakhouse in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and the fine-dining Vietnamese spot Crustacean in Beverly Hills.

Grubhub Inc., the restaurant delivery platform, has announced the Community Relief Fund, which will earmark contributions—more than $1 million a month, the company says—from its Donate the Change program for charities that support workers and restaurants impacted by the virus. Grubhub is also temporarily deferring commission fees of as much as $100 million for independent restaurants across the country that have been affected by the coronavirus.

The nonprofit Restaurant Workers Community Foundation, co-founded by Bloomberg Pursuits contributor John deBary, has also created a donation page to help people in the industry affected by the coronavirus, as well as a page that aggregates available resources.

A familiar name has stepped into the relief game, too. On March 15, José Andrés said he’s closing all of his ThinkFoodGroup restaurants in New York and Washington, D.C.—including Mercado Little Spain at Hudson Yards and Zaytinya—to repurpose several of them as community kitchens. They will operate as takeout businesses with a limited menu and flexible pricing “for those that can’t afford to pay.” Andrés says it’s part of an effort from his nonprofit World Central Kitchen (although not directly tied to it) and the free meals they’ve distributed to crisis-hit places around the globe.

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