More than 17 million families face hunger in the U.S., meaning there are millions of children who don’t have access to meals or proper nutrition. Seeking to combat childhood hunger is Share Our Strength, a charity launched in 1984. One subset of Share Our Strength that has made waves in the restaurant industry is No Kid Hungry, an enterprise launched in 2006.

The No Kid Hungry campaign operates through three initiatives: access, which connects kids to effective nutritious programs such as school breakfast and summer meals; education, which shows low-income families how to stretch their budgets at home; and awareness, which spreads the word in all 50 states about the childhood hunger crisis and advocates for policy change.

One peg of the awareness campaign is Dine Out For No Kid Hungry, a national fundraising event that takes place annually in September. It’s a chance for the restaurant industry to unite for a common cause and set up promotions, such as donating $1 for every meal sold or offering a free dessert with a donation. Since 2008, Dine Out has raised $18 million; last year alone, 8,859 restaurants participated and fundraised upwards of $8 million. The goal this year is $10 million.

While large full-service chains such as Denny’s, TGI Friday’s, and Ted’s Montana Grill participate, many independent restaurants also take part in an effort to be responsible members of their respective communities and give to a reputable cause. Some also use the month of September to test new menu items, coinciding with their charitable efforts.

“We felt that it was a good opportunity for us to give back, as well as make a mark and show that we are concerned with the betterment of our community,” says Ryan Egozi, director of operations at SuViche, a Caribbean Japanese restaurant with three locations in Florida. SuViche participated in Dine Out for the first time last year.

The restaurant had historically used the month of September to roll out and test new items and collect guest feedback. “When we found No Kid Hungry, we found that it was a great new adventure where we could place these new items on a separate menu and donate part of the proceeds to this worthwhile charity, while at the same time getting our new items exposure, getting feedback from our guests, and really finding out exactly what works and what didn’t,” Egozi says.

The charity was well received at SuViche, which raised about $1,200 last year. Many of the guests requested more information about No Kid Hungry. “For the most part, they are very excited that we are participating in that, that we do take the time to give back in whatever small ways that we can,” Egozi says.

Choosing Charities

One benefit for independents that take part in Dine Out is that Share Our Strength handles the national promotions so that cognizance of the charity is high among diners.

Gourmet restaurant Whisk in Miami relies on Share Our Strength to publicize Dine Out, and Executive Chef Brendan Connor says that is a big benefit. This means Whisk has only to get the word out in the community; the restaurant submits a flyer to local media to let diners know it is taking part and also has table toppers in the restaurant.

At Ford’s Fish Shack, a family-owned and -operated full serve with two locations in Virginia, the restaurant employs social media to get diners excited about Dine Out in September.

“Everybody watches Facebook and Twitter, so we’ll start those social media campaigns about 10 days to two weeks before it actually starts,” says Tony Stafford, who owns the restaurant with his wife Ana. “We will run [the Dine Out campaign] the whole month of September, instead of juts one or two days or a week, just because we only have two stores, and for us to make an impact, we really like to do the whole month. Then we can donate a nice, large check to the guys at Share Our Strength.”

Stafford says Ford’s Fish Shack typically supports four main charities a year. No Kid Hungry is one of them because the cause “is near and dear to our heart,” he says. Stafford was aware of Share Our Strength from when he worked in chain restaurants. When he and his wife Ana decided to open their own restaurant, they made sure Share Our Strength was one of the first charities they supported.

“We get bombarded, like every restaurant group does, with donations and things like that, and we unfortunately have to pick and choose three or four of them and concentrate on those,” Stafford explains. “Share Our Strength, they’ve done a great job over the years, and we feel like it’s a quality operation, quality organization, and the money goes directly back to the kids, to help feed the kids that really need it.”

Ford’s will donate $1 of every lobster dinner sold and 50 cents of every dessert sold in September.

No Kid Hungry’s Case Study

Whisk in Miami did two promotions for Dine Out last year. The first was a fixed-price wine-pairing menu. Whisk sold tickets to it and all of the proceeds benefited No Kid Hungry. With more than 80 tickets sold, Chef Connor says the menu was a great success.

The other promotion that Whisk ran was printing a line on the guest check for customers to donate $10 to No Kid Hungry, for which they received a free dessert. Chef Connor credits Whisk’s staff for the success of this campaign, adding that the staff is very conscious of charitable needs in the community and were on top of selling customers on the idea of the donation.

“We were actually the No. 1 participating restaurant last year when we did that,” Chef Connor says. “We’re going to do something along the same lines [this year]. We might have changed it had they not called and asked if they could do a case study on what we did.”

Chef Connor believes the reason the promotion worked so well is because Whisk incentivized customers to give a donation through free food, something “everybody was able to get behind,” he says. He coupled that with the fact that Share Our Strength is a recognizable charity; people in the community recognize the logo and know the money they’re giving will go where it belongs.

“People still feel like they’re getting something for the money,” he says. “So, it’s not only the satisfaction of knowing they helped out their charity, but they also get a really good dessert out of it.”

For restaurants that are interested in joining Dine Out month, it’s not too late. Here is a helpful guide to get started.

By Sonya Chudgar

Industry News, Philanthropy