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How to Give Back to the Community as a Restaurant


Jackie Prange

Whether you know it or not, your restaurant is already impacting lives. Your venue might be a popular first date spot, or the perfect place to “meet the parents”. Perhaps your establishment is where a doting millennial takes grandpa for a pint. Or where a regular finds comfort. Surely, there are celebrations: anniversaries, graduations, and promotions. Maybe someday someone will propose.

Restaurants unconsciously give back to guests simply by existing, providing a place where people’s lives are lived out. But what about the ways you can purposefully give back to the community around you?

Executing a corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative positively impacts your business. Not only does giving back boost your image, provoke media coverage, increase employee engagement, and attract investors, but with the new, influential and outspoken Millennial consumer demographic, “55% of consumers are willing to pay more for products from socially responsible companies.”

The article Corporate Social Responsibility Matters: Ignore Millennials at Your Peril cited research which reported that “more than nine-in-10 Millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause.”

There are many effective ways to give back without breaking the bank and many great local, national and international organizations doing impactful work. While this list is in no way comprehensive, we’ve highlighted some favorites to give you a few ideas of what’s out there.

Donate Food, Cash or Meals

Food and meal donations are the most impactful and hassle-free way restaurants can give back. More and more apps are evolving to solve the problem of food waste that has plagued America. These apps are working to ensure that food makes its way into growling bellies and not the landfill. Here are just a few platforms making a difference.

MealShare: Using a “buy one, give one” model, restaurants who’ve partnered with Canada’s MealShare program use the MealShare logo on their menu beside items that are a part of the program. When a guest orders that particular dish, they get their order as usual and MealShare donates a meal to a youth in need. At the time of writing, they’d served 1,096,793 meals.

ZeroPercent: According to the USDA, 30-50% of food produced is thrown out. Chicago-based ZeroPercent is working to solve this problem. When a restaurant has excess food that would otherwise be tossed, managers contact ZeroPercent who then pick up and donate the food to a participating charity or shelter. On the daily, ZeroPercent saves approximately 1,500 lbs of food that otherwise would have gone straight into the garbage.

Copia: San Francisco-based Copia allows restaurants to request a pick up of excess food from their platform. From there, a “food hero” picks up the bundle and delivers it to a shelter. On the app’s platform, businesses can then see the direct impact of their donation. They receive profiles and stories of the people they’ve fed.

Dine Out for No Kid Hungry: With the goal of ending childhood hunger in America, Dine Out for No Kid Hungry is an annual fundraising event held in September. To participate, it’s as easy as donating a percentage of sales. For those restaurants who want to get a little more creative, participants of the past have a coupon for a future visit in exchange for a donation. Some participants have even created a custom menu item that donates a portion of proceeds to the cause.

Support Education

By supporting a not-for-profit or fund that aids in culinary education, the difference you’re making is two-fold: first, you’re helping the industry prosper by adding more talent to the pool; second, you’re helping to change and improve individual lives by providing opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available. There are a number of different local scholarships across Canada and the US but one that stands out to us is ProStart.

ProStart is a US National Restaurant Association’s program that aims to bring the culinary arts and restaurant business into high school classrooms. Their goals include exposing underlying talent and introducing students to new interests. Under a “work and learn” ethos, participating students are given the opportunity to attain scholarships and access to mentorship after the completion of a two year industry-based program. The program itself equips students with hands on training in all aspects of hospitality. Chefs and restaurateurs can get involved through monetary donations towards the NRAEF scholarship fund, registering as a mentor, or by hiring a ProStart student or alumni.

Support Your Local Community

While big, grandiose gestures are what we’d all like to aim for, hosting a night or a fund raising event for your local animal hospital, youth baseball team, hospital or elderly care home can make a huge difference.

Assisting local non-profits is another way  to get involved on a more micro level. Take DC Central Kitchen for example. They’re making a difference at the local level in a myriad of ways, from salvaging and repurposing food waste, to delivering fresh produce and healthy snacks to corner stores, and importantly, by equipping unemployed adults with the skills to enter the culinary workforce. In a 14-week intensive training program, participants who come from backgrounds of incarceration, addiction, homeless, and trauma get culinary training and complete an internship on scholarship, so there is no cost to them.

Restaurants can get involved by hiring or donating food to the program, or by participating in a sponsoring event like the Capital Food Fight, which raised $694,000 for DC kitchen, and saw DC chefs battle it out using culinary skill and imagination. While that particular event brought in a crowd of 1000 people, it’s easy to imagine that an event like this could be successful even if performed on a much smaller scale.

Donate Used Equipment or Decor

While it’s awesome to upgrade to new equipment, don’t just toss that old stove or prep table curbside. Local non-profits, schools and other community organizations are always looking to accept used equipment in order to outfit homes and kitchens that would otherwise have nothing. Not to mention, donating equipment keeps heavy, environmentally unfriendly materials out of landfills.

While this list is in no way comprehensive or geographically specific, chances are there are plenty of not-for-profits and other organizations doing great social good near you. And hey, if there isn’t already an organization supporting a cause that you wish to stand for, then maybe it’s the perfect opportunity for you to dig in your heels and expand into the community.

Want to attract socially & environmentally conscious consumers?

Jackie was a Content Marketing Specialist and Social Media strategist at TouchBistro before moving into business development role. She covered the latest food, dining, and technology trends for the restaurant industry. A lover of all things coffee, Jackie’s hobbies include breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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