Independent restaurants partner well with many different charities. That being said, the best charities for restaurants can team up with are food-related. This is because customers rightfully know that restaurants are much more capable in helping these causes. As food is central to dining, choosing a food charity is more likely to get customers involved and increase awareness. There are some great food charities, and many of them are in your community. Below I will profile two of my favorites, Share Our Strength and City Harvest, to give you an idea of what you can do.

Nonetheless, charity is not a simple marketing strategy, but an effort to build a deeper connection with  the community. It does normally lead to positive marketing consequences, but if you are fixated on a dramatic return-of-investment, you probably should not work with charities. Customers and employees will pick up on restaurateurs who are only after the bottom line.. Put another way, charity falls in the same family of marketing as customer service (affecting customers already in your restaurant), and it isn’t easy to track how much you change customer behavior by partnering with a charity. But if you are conservative about the relationship, you should end up better in the end.

Also, on a practical level, customers know the difference when a business is acting as a mere fundraiser than a business who really invests in the cause. Being hit by a request for a donation at a chain grocery store can be frustrating when you don’t know if the company has committed itself financially to the cause. Let’s melt this down to an independent restaurant. You may not be able to match customers dollar for dollar, but giving customers $2 off their bill (or a freebie) if they make a $10 donation shows that your restaurant believes in the cause.

Share Our Strength

One charity that is suited for restaurants is Share Our Strength, a charity dedicated helping end childhood hunger in the United States. The charity addresses an important, popular cause as nutrition plays a central role to a child’s development, physically, psychologically and socially, even if the child is not on the verge of starvation. Share Our Strength has garnered the attention of important politicians and celebrities and plays a crucial role in advocating and strengthening the food stamp and reduced/free school breakfast and lunch.

Also, their website, message and programs are clear and presented well. They are something your restaurant can be proud of being involved with. Charity Navigator gives them a high rating, but you should always do your own homework about a charity.

The charity has a turnkey marketing program especially for restaurants called Dine Out No Kid Hungry that runs from September 16 to 22th, 2012. to raise funds for the charity. It increases your restaurants profile and serves a practical cause that nearly all your customers identify with. Lastly, it can even drive traffic if you promote it right.

Restaurants have flexibility and can come up with creative ways to fundraise.  Share Our Strength lists bounceback coupons, menu promotions, matching funds, social media, employee contests,
merchandise sales, and combination promotions to meet-and beat-their own fundraising goals as promotions that have worked in the past. They seem ready to help restaurants and are devoted to achieving tangible goals.

Restaurants should look into this charity, as it is a good food-related cause.

City Harvest

City Harvest is a local New York City food rescue charity that for 30 years have been a trailblazer in the fight against hunger by the NYC needy. City Harvest take the excess nutritious  food of participating restaurants, grocers, cafeterias, manufacturers and farms to feed the New York City’s hungry men, women and children. Some of their partner restaurants have Michelin stars and widely regarded as world-class restaurants, like Per Se. In NYC, however, restaurants are the least represented.

The food adds up. Currently, they distribute more than 10,000 tons of food.  There are similar charities in most major cities.

Some restaurants are reluctant to participate because they imagine there a major legal risks of food spoilage and/or poisoning. Restaurants who donate food to a non-profit are almost completely protected by Federal Good Samaritan laws. Of course, doing a little research is always necessary, but restaurants aren’t exposed as they are to diners in their own restaurant.

They too get good scores on Charity Navigator and are worth investigating. If you are in another city, you can see if there is a similar charity.  This is a commitment that doesn’t lead to flashy marketing. But customers respect restaurants that participate in charity all year long rather than for just a week. Your participation can have a snowball effect and deepen your regular customer’s loyalty. Lastly, as you wouldn’t throw out the food otherwise, your expenses are limited to the time (and employee pay) and is very predictable.

In the United States, many of us take food for granted. When a customer sees that you know that there are people without a reliable source of nutritious food, they will savor your food and your restaurant more.