Last year, T.L. Cannon Companies, the franchisee for 61 Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar restaurants in upstate New York and Connecticut, provided more than $2.42 million to nonprofits and other organizations.
The company has been doing fundraising and providing in-kind support for community programs in need for the past 20 years, since its franchises were established. Among the organizations it has donated to are the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Special Olympics, the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, and local churches, schools and youth groups.
T.L. Cannon also supports children’s education through donation programs. Children are rewarded for school achievements with a card for a free kid's meal at Applebee's, for example. Or once a student reads 10 books, he or she receives a free kid's meal with the purchase of an adult meal at one of the restaurants.
And for the past seven years, the New York State Restaurant Association has awarded the company with its "Good Neighbor Award.”
Applebee’s has also recognized T.L. Cannon as its "Applebee's Neighbor of the Year"—in 2006 and 2009—due to the grassroots support it provides to neighborhoods with Applebee’s restaurants.
Stephanie Griffin, a spokeswoman for the company, talks to Restaurant Management.
What led to T.L. Cannon fundraising and providing in-kind support?
Our brand (Applebee’s) has always stood for being part of the community. It has always been a core value. So we provide the support and we don’t consider it a decision; it’s what we do. We are neighborhood and we support neighborhood.
You focus a lot on children—why?
What we see more and more as the economy and the world changes, is that it’s groups and schools that serve youth that don’t have funding.
We are also involved with charitable organizations. But we don’t do as many [of those] because we find that to be grassroots, we want to be in the community and serving schools and education.
What’s the most successful thing you do?
The Flapjack Fundraiser—in terms of being able to support so many organizations. (On Saturday and Sunday mornings, Applebee's restaurant locations welcome groups for pancakes and bacon. Applebee's provides the venue, food and beverages, while the organizations sell tickets and volunteer.)
We have more than 2,500 Flapjack Fundraisers every year and most raise between $800 and $1,000.
The kids aren’t out selling candy bars but instead come down and actually help make pancakes. They serve people, they seat people, they bring drinks to tables. It gives them an opportunity to see how a restaurant runs and it also gives them a chance to ‘own’ that fundraiser.
It’s not just the president of the PTO who does that work. Everyone feels vested in it. It’s held at a time when our restaurant usually wouldn’t be open—8 to 10 a.m. We developed the program because we saw it as an opportunity—the buildings are closed anyway, so why not open them up?
There’s a cost to Applebee’s for the Flapjack Fundraisers. We only charge $1.50 per ticket but we look at that as our way of supporting local school and youth organizations.
How do you get the word out about your community work?
We have a neighborhood website so people can find out the different programs we have. They can book their breakfasts and events through the website. We also mail to schools and libraries and we do press releases.
But the Flapjack Fundraiser we don’t even need to promote. We launched that program five or six years ago and within two months everything was word of mouth. We have people booking events a year in advance now.
Do programs like these also help Applebee's in terms of its reputation?
We hope our community members remember us as someone offering a helping hand. But that’s a bonus. We feel it’s our obligation to be involved in the community. And we hope people support us because of that. We also feel that it sets us apart from our competitors.
Who manages all this community work?
We have three regional coordinators and they each work with 20 restaurants. They meet with the managers and talk to them about what’s important in the community. They help schedule the breakfasts and all their events. They help manage their fundraising events and get them involved in other things.
We do award ceremonies every year and do recognition awards for our managers who are most involved and have made the biggest commitment to the community.
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