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Houston restaurants gamble on gift card promotions during coronavirus pandemic

Houston Chronicle logo Houston Chronicle 3/27/2020 Greg Morago

The gift card has become a financial lifeline for Houston restaurants struggling to stay solvent during the coronavirus pandemic.

In many cases, the restaurant gift card is also a boon for consumers as businesses offer enticing deals and bonuses to cash in when restaurants return to full-service dining.

“These can be a great way for restaurants to get customers back for dine-in,” said Melissa Stewart, executive director of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association, adding that gift card incentives will build loyalty and new business when restaurants reopen.

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Some of the bonuses are up to 25 percent of dollars spent.

And some gift card purchases go directly to helping restaurant workers while the restaurant and bar restrictions remain in effect in Harris County.

Katz’s Deli in Montrose is giving 100 percent of sales of gift cards – up to $10,000 – directly to its workers.

“My team members are essential to our success. It was a no-brainer,” said owner Barry Katz, who announced the gift card initiative earlier this week. “We can put money in their pockets for what they need.”

Katz, who has about 100 employees, said he may extend the effort beyond $10,000. He also is contributing 10 percent of to-go order sales at his Westheimer restaurant to the neighboring The Women’s Home, a women’s shelter.

Are the gift card bonus offerings risky to restaurants once regular business resumes?

“I’m sure an argument could be made regarding the risk,” Stewart said. “But cash flow, and customers now and later are extremely valuable.”

Here are some gift card offerings within the local restaurant scene now:

  • Hugo’s, 1600 Westheimer, and Backstreet Café, 1103 S. Shepherd, are offering $20 gift cards for pick-up orders of $50 or more.
  • Mexican Restaurants Inc. (Uberrito, Monterey's Little Mexico and Casa Ole's, and Tortuga Mexican Kitchen in Galveston) is offering a $25 gift card with the purchase of a $100 gift card.
  • Local Foods and Benjy’s Pop-up Market at 2424 Dunstan is offering additional $25 for every $100 gift card purchase; $75 bonus for $200 gift card purchase.
  • State Fare Kitchen & Bar, 947 Gessner, is offering a $10 E-gift card with all to-go orders.
  • Frank’s Americana Revival, 3736 Westheimer, is offering $20 gift cards with every carry-out order through the end of the month.
  • Traveler’s Table, 520 Westheimer, will give a $10 gift card for every $50 spent (offer applicable for take-out only; gift cards to be used for future visits).
  • Field & Tides, 705 E. 11th St. is offering a $50 gift certificate after a third takeout and curbside order, good for dine-in only at a later date.
  • Uchi, 904 Westheimer, is offering $25 gift cards for each curbside and delivery order valid when the restaurant reopens.
  • The Rustic, 1836 Polk, is offering a $15 gift card with every entrée purchased. The gift card is valid for dine-in only for 30 days after restaurants reopen.
  • Bowl & Barrel at CityCentre is offering a $15 gift with every entree purchased. The gift card is valid for dine-in only for 30 days after restaurants reopen.
  • The General Public at CityCentre is offering guests a $15 gift with every entree purchased. The gift card is valid for dine-in only for 30 days after restaurants reopen.
  • Rainbow Lodge, 2011 Ella, is offering a $20 food gift card with each take-out order for next dine-in visit.
  • Jax Grill at 6510 S. Rice and 1613 Shepherd is giving customers a $10 gift card for spending $50 for online purchase (also offering $10 in The Union Kitchen Bucks).
  • The Union Kitchen restaurants (multiple Houston locations) is offering a $10 gift card for a $50 spend (also offering $10 in The Union Kitchen Bucks).

Greg Morago writes about food for the Houston Chronicle. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Send him news tips at greg.morago@chron.com. Hear him on our BBQ State of Mind podcast to learn about Houston and Texas barbecue culture.

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