Charitable Strategies

The salad and sandwich combo at Firelake Grill House & Cocktail Bar in Minnesota, where proceeds from dishes regularly go to charity.
The salad and sandwich combo at Firelake Grill House & Cocktail Bar in Minnesota, where proceeds from dishes regularly go to charity. FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar at Radisson Blu Mall of America

Restaurants have a long history of charitable giving, and are inundated with requests for contributions. The challenge is finding the right fit for the brand and getting the word out in a way that maximizes efforts. Some restaurants choose to partner with local charities, some with national, and many will support both types. The best results stem from good intentions, promotional savvy, and creative fundraising.

Supporting good causes also reflects well on the hosts: A 2013 Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR Study found that when corporations support social and environmental issues, consumers are highly likely to be more loyal to them.

Finding the Right Partner

George McKerrow is CEO and co-founder of Ted’s Montana Grill as well as chair of the No Kid Hungry Dine Out Advisory Council. Ted’s Montana Grill began working with No Kid Hungry’s Share Our Strength campaign in 2008, a natural fit for the restaurant that has long championed children’s causes.

“Starting in 2010, we figured out the program resonated best with a weeklong or month-long campaign to benefit our guests, our team members, and the communities in which we do business,” McKerrow explains. He adds that while the No Kid Hungry campaign typically resonates with the largest and more chain-oriented companies, “we’ve always worked with the chef-driven aspect, and this was to bring the mainstream of restaurants to play and really make a difference.”

The Melting Pot, part of Front Burner Brands, has partnered with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital since 2003. It started small,” says Bob Johnston, CEO of Front Burner Brands. “I went to St. Jude and it was pretty clear during my [first] visit that we found the right charitable partner. There are many commonalities between the way they choose to operate and the things that are important to them and to us.”

Larger or national charities can separate themselves from the pack in the way they get their message out, which adds value back to those who contribute.

“There are those who’ve learned to maximize social media and have an advertisement campaign behind it so that awareness of the event starts five or six weeks in advance,” says Executive Chef Paul Lynch of the two-unit FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar in Minnesota. “It makes it much easier for us to participate and do good if that organization can create 50,000 impressions over the next two weeks or two million impressions over the next six weeks. You have justification to move some media dollars from one pocket to another.”

Naturally there must be a balance between charitable awareness and brand awareness when qualifying local or national partners.

“If you’re talking about payoff in terms of exposure for the brand, clearly partnering with a charity that has a national preference and a high brand awareness, which St. Jude does, is probably going to result in more attention for your brand,” Johnston says. “Is there a benefit to national charity? Yes, but we also want to support local charities. The really cool thing about the partnership with St. Jude is by supporting them we are helping our local communities ... [since] they treat patients from all over the country.”


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