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Paper or plastic? How about both?

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By Scott Mechura EBS FOOD COLUMNIST

The other day, I decided to try and play a little game in my head. I was going to try to see how long I could go without hearing the words Coronavirus, or COVID-19.

The plan was simple; I would go about my daily routine (as routine as any of us are these days), but at the same time, make an effort to not get involved in any conversations that might mention either of those two names, aiming to steer clear if I knew it might come up. Let’s call it verbal distancing.

I was defeated pretty early in the day.

Absolutely everyone is being impacted by this current social challenge. Even if you are one of the select few who are positively benefiting, you are still impacted in some manner.

Other than the hospital and health worker overload, there is one area that is feeling the effects more than almost anyone else.

Hospitality.

So many individuals and industries are being impacted by this shut down, but few, if any, are more impacted than hotels, restaurants and bars.

And the irony is that, for once in this valley, this shut down is more suited for Big Sky to come out on top rather than Bozeman.

For much of Big Sky, this was merely a premature ending to the inevitable closure we all face. That doesn’t lessen the effects, but it’s easier to work with than the many restaurants, bars and hotels that the rest of valley wouldn’t otherwise face.

Much of the bar and restaurant industry operates on the commercial version of living paycheck to paycheck. That is to say, they function on very low margins, and are seldom able to earn, let alone hold on to, enough money for a rainy day.

By now you’re wondering about the title of this article and what it has to do with all of this.

Well, here is one of the most effective solutions to helping the devastated hospitality industry.

Paper and plastic; take your cash, but any money will do, and buy gift cards to all your favorite eatery’s and watering holes.

The beauty of gift cards for our cooking, serving and hotel brethren is that it’s money in the business today. Many establishments’ incomes have been slowed to a drip or been turned off altogether. It’s a great way for them to have, as minimal as it may seem, operating capital to either sustain some measure of low take out business now or increase their ability to re-open later.

In conjunction with purchasing these gift cards from your favorite establishments, is the request to be patient if they re-open. And it IS if for many of them.

When that day comes when this industry is allowed to commence business, it will be an uphill battle to produce the funds necessary for payroll and purchasing product. Give them some time to get back in the game and acquire the foot traffic required to then absorb the meal you essentially already paid for but will bring them no monetary sale for, the day you dine or drink there.

From the friends and colleagues I have talked to, they will be more thankful than you can imagine.

Whether this closure is helpful or harmful, a necessary and painful step, or panic stricken over reaction, remains to be seen and hardly matters now. The damage is already done for many.

I will be headed out today to purchase a few gift cards from some of my friends and favorites, and I encourage you to do the same.

Because in the end, it comes down to this: it won’t really matter if the glass is half empty or half full if there isn’t anyone around to fill it.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the executive chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.

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