Giving back to the community can help your restaurant and your neighborhood

Regular Panera Bread goers, especially those that stay until closing time, may know about the chain restaurant’s charitable act. Panera gives its leftover bread and pastries to local hunger-relief organizations every night. But many restaurants with heaps of leftover food simply throw it out.

Community involvement is key, especially for successful restaurants. It sets you apart from your competition and allows you to understand your community on a deeper level. What do your neighbors need? How can you help?

Here are some ways to get involved:

While the Panera model may not work for because you don’t have many leftovers, or they are all extremely perishable and have to be refrigerated, there are plenty of other ways to give back, like hosting events such as benefit nights in your space. Don’t be afraid to get creative—people will be intrigued.

Benefit nights are great because they’re a low-cost option. You get great press from hosting it, while also drawing attention to the cause you’re supporting. It can also attract new clientele that may have never visited your establishment before. You can’t beat word of mouth, and trust us, the cause your benefiting will talk about it a lot.

Perhaps you set up a benefit night at your restaurant where 10 percent of your proceeds go to your charity of choice. It’s also smart to put your benefit on a slow night, that way it brings in more business than you normally have and doesn’t overwhelm your staff with both regular and new customers. The cause you’re benefiting will appreciate any time you give them. It doesn’t cost much on your end and is going toward a good cause. It’s a win-win.

Not only will giving back benefit your business in ways you hadn’t previously imagined, it will also make you feel good. Don’t underestimate that feeling. While you may already be successful, being a bright light in your community and making a difference in someone else’s life can make you reach a new level.

If you don’t have a specific cause in mind, ask your staff. See what’s close to their hearts. They will have a good idea of what is going on in the community and help you come up with ideas. This will bring your staff together around a common goal that they may already be passionate about. Plus, by asking for their input you’re showing that you value their opinions, and staff morale is a driving force behind a business’ success.

Speaking of staff, another great idea is to set aside a day for you and your staff to volunteer for a good cause. Whether that’s putting together care packages or helping man an event. Company culture is another big key to success, and this will bring your staff closer together while also doing something beneficial for the community.

If you want to do something more out of the box, think about what your team would enjoy. Could it be in the form of a charity flag football event? Maybe it’s an ice cream social or a dance-a-thon. Get them to bring their friends! You can even incentivize them by making a prize for the top fundraiser or the person who enlists the help of the most friends.

Another thing to think about: If you decide to sponsor an event or charitable tournament of some sort, those things can be tax deductible, so keep that in mind. Tax deductions for charitable giving can be tricky, though. It’s important to check that the nonprofit you’re supporting is approved by the IRS, and the nonprofit must give you the tax form to file. Make sure to consult with your accountant, who can guide you through the process and ensure that you file everything right.

But there’s more to giving back than good press and tax returns. Another benefit of giving back is good favor in the civic eye. Don’t just be a business—be a fixture in your community.

Remember, even though a business’ goal is to make money, it’s not always about you. It’s about making the community a better place. Use your platform for good. Be a positive influence.

Expert Takes, Feature