‘This is going to be huge’; Hawaii Restaurant Card program looks to boost eateries

  • Sample card


Hawaii residents who filed an initial unemployment claim since March 1 and received benefits during the month of September have started to receive the Hawaii Restaurant Card in their mailboxes — if their job loss is because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The card is a prepaid debit card worth $500 and can be used for purchases of food and non-alcoholic beverages at restaurants, bakeries and fast food outlets in Hawaii that accept debit Mastercard.


“This is such an incredible idea, and I just can’t tip my hat enough to all the folks that came up with this … on the state level,” said Greg Maples, Hawaii Restaurant Association chairman, on Wednesday during a Honolulu Advertiser Facebook Live stream. “We’re literally so grateful for it. This is a huge deal. So anybody whose been on unemployment … in the month of September, you’re going to receive in the mail this $500 Mastercard debit card. And it’s keyed so you can use it at any restaurant, any bakery, and you can use it for catering. And that $500 equates to $75 million (for restaurants). The card’s only good until Dec. 15, so what we’re going to do is inject $75 million in, basically 60 days, into the restaurant world. This is going to be huge.

“With 3,600 restaurants (statewide) pre-COVID, that’s about $11,000 per restaurant. We know some restaurants that are closed, some that aren’t open. So every restaurant has the opportunity, if everybody did it evenly, to get about $15,000 in sales. We know that’s not going to be the case. We know that there are some restaurants that are going to receive a lot more business, but it’s huge, and we’re very, very grateful for the opportunity.”

The card can be used for food and non-alcoholic beverage purchases at the eating establishments, and even a tip, with a pre-authorization by the eatery. It can be used for dine-in and take-out restaurant orders, as well.

If wine, beer or spirits are ordered with a meal, the cardholder will need to request a separate check for the alcoholic beverages and pay for it with their own funds.

The card also can be used for pizza delivery and for certain other delivery services, such as Uber Eats and DoorDash. It cannot be used for supermarkets or grocery stores, even if those stores have a restaurant or bakery inside.

Recipients will need to activate their card by telephone prior to use. There will be a sticker on the card with the number to call to activate. Callers will be asked to input their card number, date of birth, ZIP code and the three-digit security code on the back of the card and might be asked to validate their identity by providing, at a minimum, their name and address or to answer identity verification questions.

Cardholders will also be asked to create a four-digit personal identification number required for automated assistance and to hear balance remaining on the card. Users are asked, for security purposes, to not use personal information as their PIN.

The card, which is financed through federal coronavirus relief funds, cannot be reloaded, and any balance left on the card on Dec. 15 cannot be used beyond that date. It also can’t be used for other types of purchases or to obtain cash from an automated teller machine.

Once the card is registered by telephone, users can view their balance and transaction history online at HawaiiRestaurantCard.com. The website also has a section for frequently asked questions.

The $500 on the card is not taxable income, although purchases are subject to the state’s general excise tax, and the card’s purpose is to help the local restaurant industry, whose owners and employees have struggled because of the pandemic.

“Restaurants, right now, 65% of them say if they continue the way they are right now … between now and six months, they will close. Let that sink in, 65%. That’s huge,” said Maples.

“You have chain restaurants which are still suffering — let’s make no mistake about it they’re still suffering— but they have a little more help … because they have franchisers that are there to help them. But the ones that are really affected are going to be our mom-and-pop restaurants, our small restaurants, our single-unit ones. And these are the ones that carry the culture of Hawaii. These are the ones that … you and I eat every day at. … And those are the ones I worry about the most. I think it’s going to be very impactful for them.”

“You can rest assured that you can come to your favorite restaurant. You’re going to be taken care of,” he concluded. “Bring your Hawaii Restaurant Card, or just bring your everyday debit card. But I want people to feel comfortable coming to a restaurant. I talk to a lot of people who say, ‘You know, I’m not ready yet.’ I want you to know that the restaurant owners and operators are doing the very best job that they can. … Remember that we have the strictest guidelines for COVID that restaurants have to follow, and we have the toughest mechanism in place for compliance, which is the placard system.


“… Come back, visit us. We’re ready.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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