Pay now, eat later!

Besides our homes, where we are cooped up now, which other places do we have a lot of fun very, very frequently?

My own experience, and response, would be… our favorite restaurants.

My daughter has been persistently and sadly telling me that her summer holidays are incomplete without multiple trips to the famous Bengaluru icon, Corner House ice cream shop! And our family’s favorite all-weather option for eating out is La Casa, off Sarjapur Road – we haven’t been there in more than a month… understandably so.

While this coronavirus pandemic will affect and is affecting a whole lot of business, one obvious and visible industry that is bound to face the heat for a prolonged time is the restaurant sector.

I saw this recent text message with a lot of sadness 🙁

Even if the severe lockdown restrictions are eased, we people would have a lingering doubt about going out and eating out. Eating out is anyway a want, not a need, since we are surer about home-cooked food during such risky times.

Imagine the plight of our favorite restaurants where we have so much fun, eating with others! They are completely shut for almost a month! All those people employed there, many of whom know us by name and greet us so warmly, are jobless! I wondered what this industry is doing, or would do, to manage the biggest crisis they are in.

One interesting idea many of them are depending on is gift cards! Also sometimes called ‘bounce-back cards’, these are literally advance purchases! You buy a card that usually comes with a 12-month validity by paying for it upfront now. And you can use that amount’s worth of dining when things are better and you are able to visit them.

Hashtag Loyalty, a Mumbai-based customer engagement platform, has even launched SaveLocal, an aggregator for such gift card purchases!

There are other brands and sectors that are utilizing this idea too, incidentally. Here’s HeadphoneZone, using this idea to request people to pre-order now (and pay for it fully) and get it delivered when the lockdown’s severity eases (and non-essentials are also allowed to be home-delivered). This is to ensure that they have cash-flow during a period of no-business due to no-delivery!

My favorite effort in this direction is from Zomato!

Zomato’s loyalty product, Zomato Gold, has been in news a LOT for protests from some restaurants. From a consumer’s point of view, Zomato Gold offers phenomenal value and I say this as a member who has made the most of the offers within the program. It literally directs our choice of restaurant in many instances!

Zomato has created a #SupportYourServer initiative wherein if you extend your Gold subscription for another year, Zomato adds another year free of charge for you! And the full amount goes towards supporting restaurant chefs, servers and housekeepers from the Gold Support Fund.

I found this wonderfully unique because it frames the help we are offering as our benefit. It’s not pure charity, but charity coated with user benefits. In corporate-speak it is called ‘matching gift’ where the company donates the same amount as the employees. In this case, Zomato promises to match what we users donate, and also give us that benefit in terms of an extra year of Gold subscription.

We gain 2 years’ worth of Gold subscription while paying for one, and also the satisfaction of having supported, in a small way, people from our favorite restaurants that we frequent. Because it is framed as a benefit, we’re more like to indulge in this kind of charity.

The only hitch that I see: there is no clear visibility into when the situation with regard to restaurants would ease. The confidence with which we may head out to eat or drink may take a lot more time than we can optimistically hope. From that perspective, even extending the Gold subscription may be seen as a wasteful expenditure in these times.

But, for the optimists, this is a great idea that psychologically works better than plain charity.