December 23, 2009
Ravenous rethinking its no-gift certificates policy

As regular readers of my reviews know, I am a fan of Mark Helms and his creative, precise and rigorous cooking at Ravenous Cafe. So I was alarmed to hear a caller recently who had a complaint: She tried to give Helms money, and he wouldn't take it.

Turns out, Lis Andersen is a member of an investment group and a fan of Ravenous, too. She wanted to get a friend a gift certificate at this little gem of a restaurant in the Pocket area. But when she inquired, she was told they don't do such a thing, that it causes confusion with bookkeeping.

"I was flabbergasted," she told me. "Why would a bookkeeper not want my money? They lost a $125 sale to Biba."

Turns out, the same thing happened to me six months ago. A friend at work was having a baby. When I reviewed Ravenous, he came along and raved about the food along with the rest of us. So I called Helms back then and said I wanted to buy a $50 gift certificate. He turned it down, with a similar explanation about bookkeeping.

I'm no business expert, but it seems to me that gift certificates and, especially, gift cards, are flourishing. Not hard to see why. For one thing, they are money that can only go to that business. For another, if they are not used right away, if they languish in a sock drawer somewhere for months, they amount to a nice little no-interest loan for the business.

So I called Helms back and asked what's going on. How can he keep leaving money on the table -- mine, Lis' and who knows how many others?

Helms is a food guy, but not a money guy.

"It's extremely hard to track," he explained.

Then I told him my free money layman's theory. He concurred.

"I'm going to start doing them anyway," he said. "I've had so many requests."

It may be too late to receive a Ravenous gift under your tree this Christmas, but if you're looking for a last-minute gift idea for a foodie, a restaurant gift certificate is an excellent way to go -- at Ravenous or any of other fine eateries around.

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