Darrell Huckaby - Huck's restaurant bailout plan

This economic crunch is really getting out of hand, y'all. Stores are closing left and right and folks are getting laid off and downsized and furloughed and I don't know what all. Retirement accounts are drying up to nothing and there seems to be no end in sight.

Gasoline prices are finally dropping, but a lot of folks are still having a hard time finding the money to fill their tanks. Car sales have dropped to practically nothing, and the big three Detroit automakers are practically begging the government for help.

And the downturn is hurting governments, too. According to yesterday's paper, the county is going to have to tighten its belt considerably next year, and the local school board is going to have to come up with about $6 million in cuts. One thing they are considering is having administrative personnel stay home one day a month without pay. That's pretty drastic.

And here we are at the holidays, and merchants who count on making most of their profit for the year between Thanksgiving and Christmas are scared to death that folks are going to cut back on shopping this year.

My kids are a bit concerned about that, too - but that's a different story for a different day.

I used to hear my daddy talk about the "hard times" back in the '20s and the '30s. Times may not be anywhere near as hard as they were back in '29, but they are becoming a bit uncomfortable for many.

Know who is really struggling right now? I mean besides the car people and the county governments. Restaurants. Folks aren't eating out near as much as they used to.

I myself have a few favorite places to eat. I usually don't say which ones they are, because it is hard enough to get a table in Conyers anyway, especially on a Friday night, which is when we usually go out to eat. When football season starts, our eating out usually ends, because we have high school football on Friday nights and college football on Saturdays and are too tired and broke from those two endeavors to eat out the rest of the week. When football ends, we generally get back in the swing of things.

Last weekend I conducted a little unscientific survey of local eateries and discovered that for most, business is off at least 25 percent, and for many, particularly the higher end places, significantly more. I found that I could walk right in at places that would usually have a 45-minute wait and other places had laid off wait staff and closed down portions of their dining rooms.

That can't be good, especially here at the holidays.

Well, I started thinking about it a little bit - and me thinking is always a scary proposition - but I came up with an idea that might be a pretty good one.

Gift cards.

I am usually not a big fan of gift cards. They seem a bit impersonal and I have a hard time remembering to go and use them, and there are all kinds of reasons Clark Howard has for not giving them - although honesty compels me to admit that I can't remember what they are - but I think this year I might give a few gift cards from my favorite restaurants to those people who are hard to buy for.

You know the people I am talking about. They are on your list and you want to do a little something for them but you really have no idea what they need or don't need or what size they wear.

You can get in a lot of trouble trying to guess what size a person is - especially a female-type person. I always buy clothes for women about two sizes smaller than I think they are, lest I offend them. And even with men, how many shirts can a person need? And most of us have a cabinet full of Old Spice already. But a night out - now who doesn't like a night out?

I, personally, like getting gift cards for restaurants because it takes the guilt out of eating out. My lovely wife, Lisa, likes getting them because she doesn't have to cook, and even if the card won't cover the entire amount of a meal, it certainly takes the sting out of having to pick up the check.

If more folks give restaurant gift cards more folks will go out to eat, and seeing the restaurants full again will make things seem better than they are and pretty soon we will let loose of some of that money we are hoarding and start spending again, and when folks start spending again, the economy will improve and pretty soon, happy days will be here again - all because we gave restaurant gift cards this Christmas.

Hey, if the president-elect can solve the energy crisis with a tire gauge, I can help the economy with a restaurant gift card campaign.

Maybe when word gets around Mr. Obama will name me to a cabinet post. I can be Secretary of Linthead-Americans.

See y'all Friday night - at an eatery near you!

Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.