A few weeks back, as the coronavirus encroached on Seattle’s restaurant industry, Richard Hurring and his business partner, Ian Dinsmore, sat at a Burien pub called the Point, chatting with their server about how customers like them could help an industry about to be laid flat by this pandemic.

The server’s suggestion: Buy gift cards. Right now they function almost like a microloan (one that never comes due for the estimated 10 to 25 percent of cards that go unredeemed).

Hurring and Dinsmore looked around for a site that curated gift cards from local restaurants; when they couldn’t find such a thing, they got busy making one—the Pay Forward Project. The pair have no connection to the restaurant industry beyond being customers and fans, but they are co-founders of a local marketing agency, Big Man and the Little Guy. Their marketing know-how, and some developer assistance from the staff, yielded a website that assembles direct links so users can buy gift cards from roughly 200 local bars, restaurants, and taprooms, from Canon to Joule to Bizarro Italian Cafe.

The Pay Forward Project doesn't take any sort of cut. "To be clear, we haven’t asked their permission," says Hurring. "We have gone out, researched, sat here, and frankly googled restaurants" in hopes people will invest the funds they might otherwise spend on date night or (non-virtual) happy hour. It's a small thing, sure, but in a moment when many of us feel powerless to support this industry, it's a concrete way to help.

Restaurants can submit their own details via a field at the bottom of the home page and issue email updates about gift card bonuses. Hurring vets each listing on the site to ensure all restaurants do indeed have local roots.

Since he has no financial stake, Hurring doesn't have metrics on how many people have bought gift cards since the Pay Forward Project went live on March 24. But he does hope users will divert each week's entertainment budget into gift cards that will be waiting whenever dining rooms open up again.

That inherent notion of a future appealed to Hurring as much as the monetary boost of a gift card. We need that right now, he says. "It gives a sense of life beyond the current situation."

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