Dining Bonds Are The New War Bonds... The Restaurant Industry Hopes

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.

A photo from August 24, 1942 of a war bond poster that reads, "Give us more planes, we'll give you victory." This poster won 2nd prize in the High School classification. (Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

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.

January 19, 1944: In a huge War Bond rally held at Los Angeles City Hall, councilman Robert Burns speaks to the crowd. Seated, left to right: H. O. Patrick, yeoman, first class; Marine Dick Leesman; Kenneth Potter, fireman, first class; Sergeant Joe Wilson of the Marines, all South Pacific veterans; Robert B. Moulton, head of the Treasury Department's War Finance Committee for Southern California; Actress Joan Bennett, and Federal Judge Pierson M. Hall, principal speaker at the rally. (Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

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.

Patrons wait for their take out orders as tables are placed on top of tables in a close food court Los Angeles, California on March 17, 2020. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

"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.

The Breva dining room in the Hotel Figueroa. (Courtesy of the Hotel Figueroa)

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.

The backroom of the revamped Formosa Cafe in West Hollywood. (Maxim Shapovalov)

In Los Angeles, participants include Coni' Seafood in Inglewood, E.P. & L.P. in West Hollywood and the 10 bars of the 1933 Group.

"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.