Jay, who has lived in the Waukesha area for over 20 years, is an active volunteer who has served on numerous local boards and committees. He's married to Colleen with three kids having gone through the Waukesha schools. He is the VP of a local distribution company.
My wife and I are have been going through our "Gift Card Envelopes" more frequently these days. Let me explain why....
Between Holidays, Birthdays, raffles, and a host of other events we have accumulated a large cache of gift cards. It seems that our friends and family have run out of ideas for a middle-aged couple. Typical lines (excuses) are related to "I didn't know what to get you - you have almost everything!" These cards/certificates include overnight stays in Bed & Breakfasts; Spa Certificates; restaurant cards ranging from in value from $10 to $100; retailer gift cards; and others. Some are new and many older.
With the kids not joining us for dinner nearly as often as in the past (school, jobs...), and falling into the occasional rut of going to the usual stand-bys, Colleen and I are treating the envelope as a freshening to go places we might not have been to for quite some time. Conversations debate what type of food; how far to drive, should we go with friends, etc..
A few weeks back, gift certificate in hand, we went to a locally-owned, higher end restaurant where the food and service have been amongst our favorites for many, many years. My first hint that things are different for restaurants these days was the ease with which we got a same day Saturday early evening reservation. Seated immediately, there were empty tables at 7 on a Saturday. Years past? Unthinkable! The bigger hint of the pressure facing restaurants was the table service - charitably I would call the service "weak". When our server first appeared 10 minutes after were seated, she was harried, unapologetic, and cursory in her approach to us. As dinner wore on, we realized she was harried because they were not scheduled/staffed for any crowd beyond a half-full dining room. Ironically, I remarked that they must have fired the cleaning service as an unnecessary cost because there was a thick, streaked dusty window sill adjacent to us.
The long and short - we were pushed through a thoroughly unenjoyable dinner which we paid for with a combination of a gift card and cash. On the ride home, I told Colleen it was fortunate we used the gift card because I feared they were "on the ropes". Coincidentally - the restaurant owner announced to the press the next week that they were closing...
Needless to say, we inventoried our gift card stash and have been using them much more regularly. Since that night, we are much more cognizant that these are the most challenging times to face many restaurants - ever. But there is a hidden benefit to some of these places with our use of these overlooked gift cards in lieu of cash. We are re-discovering places which were off of our radar. If we have a positive experience, we have, in some cases, returned with friends... and cash!
My point? This is a good time to be conserving cash, and using these cards serves that purpose. However - This will be a thoroughly homogenized society of national restaurants if we lose the local flavor of our local entrepeneurs because of the economic pressures facing the "non-chains".
Soooo... Use gift cards if you have them. If you have a pleasant experience and finances allow for it, and particularly if it is a locally-owned business, return and patronize them as a full-pay customer. Most of the best restaurants in Southeastern WI are depending on us...