Many restaurants engage in philanthropy, and the ones who target local causes embed themselves in the communities they serve.

When it opened last year, the Lynchburg, Virginia, location of East Coast Wings + Grill launched with a charity day instead of a grand opening.

Franchisees Mike and Leah Morrell donated 10 percent of their sales from the day, and the corporate office in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, matched their gift. The result? A $2,000 donation to two local charities, Court Appointed Special Advocates (casa) and Patrick Henry Family Services.

“We’re the first location of this brand in Virginia and want to spread the word and be a model of family-friendly restaurants. What better way to do that than by embedding ourselves in the community?” Mike Morrell says.

Since then, the store has supported other charitable causes. In May, it ran the special Wags and Wings event on its patio, and the local Humane Society brought several adoptable dogs to the store. The event attracted a crowd and generated $300, thanks to the Morrells’ donation of 10 percent of their sales during the four-hour affair. Moving forward, the Morrells hope to turn Wags and Wings into an annual event.

In March, the restaurant raised $1,350 for the local high school football team’s championship rings by donating 10 percent of sales back every Tuesday of the month. At the awards banquet for the team, the Morrells were called out and thanked. “That’s one of the coolest things we’ve done,” Morrell says.

The Morrells select some of the charities they support, but more often the organizations seek them out. They’d like to help them all, “but we have limits,” Morrell says. “You can’t give as much as you want to from a business standpoint, but we try to pick the most impactful ones.”

They pick what aligns with their values. Over the past year, Morrell has also learned he needs to budget for the store’s charitable efforts more strategically; by this summer he’d already overspent for the year. The amount will be the same in 2020 but more spread out.

At Houston-based Luby’s, each of the 78 stores in Texas offers “Fun’Raising” opportunities so any local charity, school, church, or nonprofit can apply to hold an event at a store. On the night the event is held (usually 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.), 15 percent of sales from orders accompanied by a coupon or flyer from the charity is donated. Typically the donated amounts start at $50.

The company receives five to 10 requests for these types of events daily, says director of marketing Dana Rogers-Yates, and almost all are approved.

Another advantage to the events: Stores see sales boosts on event nights. “Some of our Fun’Raising guests are visiting Luby’s for the first time, and this is a great way to introduce them to what Luby’s offers,” Rogers-Yates says.

The head office participates in the brand’s philanthropic efforts, too. In the summer it ran a school supplies drive. The department that gave the most won a prize, and the company ended up donating a total of 50 boxes of collected school supplies to two schools near the office.

Luby’s team members also support causes through volunteering. Employees sign up to work in their community, such as helping at soup kitchens and repairing fences, which, Rogers-Yates says, also helps with employee bonding. “These events show we care. They show we want to be part of a community,” she adds.

Josh Harris, owner of Trick Dog bar in San Francisco, is regularly involved in local giving.

He changes the menu at Trick Dog every six months. The menus feature not only listings of culinary offerings, but also various creative components that are sold as artworks. The most recent menu sold for $20 or $40 for a screen print.

All proceeds from the current menus will be donated to Harris’ new charity, Bon Vivants Scholarship. His scholarship fund supports ScholarMatch, an organization that helps send the children of hospitality workers to college. Bon Vivants has committed to donating $150,000 over the next five years to this charity.

“We wanted to create the type of items that people would purchase,” Harris says. Other items he’s sold for charity include a dog calendar and books. One, a cocktail book, benefited La Cocina, a local charity that supports primarily women and immigrant-run entrepreneurial food businesses.

Trick Dog also hosts a philanthropic birthday party for itself every year. It seeks sponsorship for the event and guests pay to attend, though once inside everything is free. Harris donates all proceeds from that evening to Seven Tepees Youth Program.

Throughout it all, he’s worked to support causes “that have felt natural to the concept and that inspire me.” Harris himself researches and selects the charities the bar will support.

The charitable work also benefits the bar. “The changing menus give us a chance to stay engaged with our business. But it’s hard; we set a standard for ourselves that can be challenging, and it can be frustrating to be creative on a timeline,” Harris says.

Feature, Labor & Employees, Philanthropy