For every purchase of a pair of TOMS shoes, the company gives a pair to someone in need. Warby Parker glasses does something similar. When you buy a pair of glasses, they donate to one of their nonprofit partners that trains women and men how to give basic eye exams. Even Amazon offers charitable giving. They’ll donate 0.5% of the price of eligible AmazonSmile purchases to an organization of your choice.
There are thousands of noteworthy examples of companies engaging in social causes. But does this type of outreach translate to the restaurant business?
Restaurants grapple with some of the tightest margins, making it hard to spare a dollar – even for charity. Most full-service restaurants are netting only a 6.1 percent profit margin. With such little wiggle room, you might not think donating to charity is worth it. But marketing strategist and founder of Airlink Marketing, Arianna O’Dell, wants you to know it is: “When it [giving to a social cause] comes from the heart, it’s more genuine and people are more likely to contribute and in turn support your business.”
How do Charitable Donations Benefit my Restaurant?
O’Dell suggests, “Businesses shouldn’t only think about their bottom line when contributing, but the impact they can make on the world.” It’s true that supporting a cause creates a ripple effect of good deeds. But, as a business owner, the return on your investment is still important. So here are four key ways your restaurant can get a boost from giving back:
Improve employee morale – The National Restaurant Association reported that 87 percent of millennials surveyed said they consider cause marketing and a company’s commitment to the community when deciding on a place to work. Restaurants that dedicate their time and energy to a cause offer a more attractive environment to potential hires. Of course, it’s not just about recruiting employees but retaining them, as well. O’Dell says, “Supporting a social cause can boost employee morale, which in turn, can attribute to increased service or sales.” Happy employees equal happy customers.
Increase brand awareness – If you can establish a long-term partnership with a non-profit, it will eventually pay off in brand awareness. Having a section on your website, highlighting your volunteering allows customers to see how important social causes are to your business. A non-profit that relies on your support will happily sing your praises and share your restaurant’s do-good service with their members, patrons and social media followers. And getting a shout-out from a charitable cause is always good for branding.
Improve brand perception – Brand awareness isn’t enough. For people to remember you and keep your restaurant top of mind, they need to feel a connection. You can create all those warm and fuzzies by participating in social causes. Customers perceive companies as “good” when they donate to good causes. It makes them feel like they’re paying it forward just by eating at your restaurant.
Generate customer leads – Charitable donations “help attract like minded individuals to the restaurant,” notes O’Dell. People who are actively involved in charitable giving will see your affiliation and flock to your door. Why? Because people support those who support them. That said, don’t expect these leads to convert directly into life-long customers. While their first visit is based on altruism, their second, third and 100th visit are based on your food and service.
8 Ways Restaurants Can Give Back and Still Make a Buck
1. Donate a small portion of your profit – Dedicate a day of the week, month or year to donate a small portion of your sales to a charity of your choice. You could also donate a small percentage by item or dish. If you’re a breakfast café, for instance, you might designate a muffin of the month. A percentage of sales from that particular flavor of muffin would then be donated to charity.
2. Add a surcharge for a cause – One restaurant in San Francisco noticed the majority of their carbon footprint was coming from the purchase of beef and lamb. To counter the effects, they added a 25-cent carbon ranching surcharge to certain menu items, which they use to purchase carbon offsets. Though not widely popular in the restaurant industry, a surcharge is a viable option. Plus, it could very easily become a conversation starter, which means more buzz around your business.
3. Hire from the community – Some people are limited in the kinds of jobs they can hold due to mental illness, a prison record or physical impairments. Veterans are a prime example. Embrace these individuals, and you’ll be doing a great service to your community. Connect with the Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN) for more information about how you can help advance diversity in your restaurant. They also offer a message board, where you can post your job openings.
4. Work with local schools – Kids need to learn job-related skills, and you could use some help around the kitchen. So why not start a job-shadowing or apprenticeship program? In 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded a $1.8 million contract to develop the first-ever apprenticeship program for the restaurant, food service and hospitality industries. Learn more about the opportunities and guidelines at ChooseRestaurants.org.
5. Sell coupons – It may sound like an oxymoron, but you can sell discounts to customers. Save on Meats in Canada sells tokens that can be redeemed for a free sandwich. The idea is for customers who buy the tokens to give the tokens to someone in need (in lieu of cash that can easily be spent on drugs or alcohol). This type of exchange program benefits the community, and helps you use all your ingredients.
6. Donate unused food – Restaurants are rife with overages. Put your surplus of food to good use by packing it up and donating to a homeless shelter or local food pantry. With 1 in 8 Americans going to bed hungry every night, this is a cause that deserves your attention. Visit FeedingAmerica.org for more ways to fight food poverty in your area.
7. Volunteer your time – O’Dell suggests, “When the restaurant is slow…they [employees] could use the time to work on a project that supports a charitable cause.” While downtime might be scarce, every minute can make a difference, especially when you capitalize on employees’ other skills. “For example, if an employee is skilled in social media, offer to run it for a charity.”
8. Round up the bill – This works just like a checking account that rounds up your purchases to the nearest dollar, and then puts the change in a separate savings. All you have to do is ask patrons if they want to round up their bill, with the extra cash going to a pre-selected charity. Payment processing systems like Talus Pay can work with you to set up your charitable contributions.
These are just a few of the ways your restaurant can commit to a cause without hurting your bottom line. Ultimately, though, you’ll need to decide if giving back is within your budget. Just because you can donate now doesn’t mean you’ll have the cash flow – or time – next month or next year. In lean times, you may need to pull back or put up your own money. Ask yourself if you’re willing to do that and what the consequences might be if you do.
Learn how you can save move and get more for your charity, contact a representative today.