CapitalData Intelligence

Restaurants as Neighbors – Giving Back to the Community

Restaurants are at the center of many communities. They band neighbors together, create venues for celebrations, and act as gathering places for family and friends. According to the National Restaurant Association, 9 out of 10 restaurants are involved in community service. When you contribute to your neighbors and community, it not only makes your smile a bit brighter, but also establishes your restaurant and brand as a place with heart. According to a 2012 Edelman goodpurpose study, “87 percent of consumers worldwide want businesses to place at least equal weight on society’s interests as their business interests.” This same study concluded that 72 percent of consumers are more likely to recommend a business that contributes to charities. These are just a few of the restaurants that have taken heed and, in the process, are making a difference.


Restaurant Neighbor Award

Fifteen years ago, in order to acknowledge the many philanthropic efforts restaurants contribute to, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation and American Express banded together to create the Restaurant Neighbor Award. In 2016, these four winners, each of whom received $5,000 in order to help with their community efforts, illustrated remarkable success at making a difference in their communities.

  • Carr’s Steakhouse in Mayfield, Kentucky has raised approximately $50,000 through numerous events that have supported the needs of their community. These funds have gone to numerous causes including getting kids enrolled in youth sports programs and raising money to keep their local theatre operational.
  • Gregg’s Restaurants & Pubs in East Greenwich, Rhode Island participates in numerous charitable events including contributing to more than 325,000 Christmas gifts given to those in need. Other yearly initiatives raise money for the children’s hospital, a breast cancer foundation and the local food bank.
  • Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation has raised over $17 million that has gone to fire, police, EMS and public safety organizations.
  • Harald Herrmann, president of Darden Specialty Restaurant Group with brands such as Olive Garden and Yard House, started Round It Up America in 2009. Customers can round up their bill and contribute that amount to the particular restaurant’s charity. They have raised approximately $3.2 million.


Other Restaurants Supporting Their Communities

Another restaurant committed to supporting their local communities is Islands, a restaurant chain located in California. They support schools, community programs and youth sports. The company has consistently raised over $500,000 every year. Still, others are instilling a sense of camaraderie, team effort and employee engagement by encouraging their employees to stand for a cause. The employees at Tijuana Flats, a Tex-Mex brand, helped build homes for Habitat of Humanity and have served food in soup kitchens.


Creating a Staff that Cares

According to 2016 Cone Engagement Studies, 88 percent of Millennials find their job more fulfilling if they are making a positive impact and 51 percent of employees do not want to work for a company that does not commit to social or environmental causes. Building an inspired team is one of the most challenging and most important aspects of a successful restaurant. If you haven’t created this avenue of charitable giving for your employees, discuss the possibility with them and consider voting for the non-profit organization that they would like to contribute to.


How to Get Started

Starting local and giving back to the community that has so graciously supported you is a great way to establish yourself as a socially responsible brand. Consider these community organizations: schools, youth groups, elderly support groups such as Meals on Wheels or local volunteer transportation services, or simply donating food to a local non-profit event. Host a Thanksgiving meal for community members needing a place to go. Partner with a charity and host dine-to-donate events on a slow night, or consider donating surplus food to your local food bank. You can do something as simple as selling paper icons. Shake Shack raised $135,000 by selling these symbols for No Kid Hungry.

In order to keep brand awareness in the community’s sight when giving back, consider a strategy that is consistent with your identity. A social issue that is aligned with your mission statement and brand will make an indelible impact. For instance, Buffalo Wild Wings—the iconic sports bar—gives back by sponsoring local school sports teams. Not only are they giving to the community, but they get their logo splashed across the team’s jerseys.

Pizza Ranch has come up with a unique strategy. They host community nights in which neighbors and friends bus tables for a night and donate their tips as well as part of the profits to a local cause such as raising money for school field trips. These types of events fill the restaurant on a slow night while instilling a sense of community.


The Golden Age of Philanthropy

With social responsibility on the rise, national organizations have cropped up that are making a tremendous impact. Consider initiatives that fall into your category. Food. In America, one is six children do not have enough food to keep hunger at bay. No Kid Hungry has stepped up to the plate by providing over 107 million meals to these children.

Restaurants nationwide have promoted this cause by participating in Dine Out for No Kid Hungry—a year-round campaign that supports this cause. You simply register your restaurant and participate by creating a bounce back coupon, donating a percentage of sales during a specific period of time, or offering a special menu promotion. According to a Technomic restaurant survey, the post-promotion coupon redemption rate is around 32 percent and sales increased at participating restaurants during the promotion by 9 percent.

There are multiple ways to contribute to your local community. Choose a cause that is close to you and your employees’ hearts and get started. You may find that these events are not only the most memorable, but a definite bonus to your marketing strategy as well. As someone we’ll never know once said, “Never get tired of doing little things for others. Sometimes, those little things occupy the biggest part of their hearts.”



  • Subscribe to our latest insights

Are you capital raise ready?