Every restaurant owner knows that being involved within their community is key to their success. However, constant requests for gift cards, free meals, and other donations can get overwhelming and costly with time. Frankly, with margins being so slim already, it is hard to give back as much as you’d like. Here are some tips and advice on how to manage your “giving back regimen.”
Define a Monthly Donation Budget
Figure out how much you can afford to give in terms of donations each month. Once you have donated/spent the whole amount, inform any new requestor that the budget has been spent at this time and they can try again next month. Being organized will help people plan without feeling resentful, it definitely sounds better than a short no, and it will keep you from overspending.
Donate Small Amount Gift Cards
This is actually a smart marketing strategy in disguise. Statistically, few are generally redeemed. Even if they are, it gets your name out there, it gives you brownie points with the community, it may bring new customers, and it encourages your regulars to pay you a visit. All in all, they are easy to create and rewarding both for you and for charities.
Offer a 'One Free Item' Voucher
These are just a variant of the previous one. The difference is: you dictate what they are getting. By doing so, you can encourage your patrons to try something new. If, for instance, most of your guests never order dessert or a drink, giving a voucher for those items may help them discover new menu items without cutting into your revenue.
Offer to Host a 'Spirit Night' on Slow Nights
If your place is generally empty some nights of the week, offer to host a spirit night at your location for schools and other charitable organizations and fill up your place. While you may argue that the percentage you have to give back is not worth the effort, it does show goodwill, it helps promote your location to new customers, and it makes your wait staff happy by keeping them busy on an otherwise slow night.
Offer Family or Community Night
Again, a variant of spirit night, except you don’t give money back to a particular organization that is advertising to their group. However, by hiring/organizing kids entertainment, inviting a local band, giving away some gift cards and/or donating part of the proceeds to a local charity, you are showing your involvement with the community, and patrons will be happy to be part of this initiative.
Be Creative and Create the Buzz
More involved – but crazy effective – are those restaurants that are giving back to the homeless community. Two recent examples of restaurants that made the social media rounds thanks to their charity work are Sakina Halal Grill in DC and Rosa's Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia. Pakistani-born Kazi Mannan worked his way up to owning a halal restaurant – “Sakina Halal Grill” – in an affluent neighborhood in downtown Washington, DC. As a way to give back, he invites homeless men and women to come and enjoy a free meal at his restaurant. His charitable offering has been celebrated around the region and allowed his restaurant to be featured in several outlets – from EaterDC to a local TV news station. While this may come at a high cost for his restaurant, it was undeniably a great way to become a local fixture.
But even more amazing was this pizza place in Philadelphia that has been all over the social media channels with its great charity work. At Rosa's Fresh Pizza, when you buy a pizza slice, you can also buy one for the homeless for $1. What’s so smart about it is that it doesn’t cost them anything; patrons buy a slice for $1, which is noted on a post-it note, and any homeless person can come and ask for a slice by just taking one of those notes. The restaurant’s generous initiative has gained them lots of highly valuable media attention – from Ellen to USA Today – and today, you can even buy a slice online for the homeless.
Being charitable doesn’t have to be costly. Customers love to be part of a good story, so invent that story and invite them to be in it.
Feel free to email me with creative charitable giving ideas that you may have implemented at your restaurant, and let’s continue to give back to our communities without losing our shirt.