Supporting local events, activities, and causes can help you stand out from your competition and strengthen your operation’s appeal to core customers. “Corporate citizenship” is a form of public relations that can be even more effective than advertising in building and maintaining your brand.
Tips for Strengthening Your Community Ties
Make a Budget
Determine at the beginning of the year how much you’ll spend on community involvement. Let’s say you allocate 4 percent of your sales to marketing. How much of that percentage should you devote to corporate citizenship? There is no magic number; the proper mix depends on your market, your competition, and your ambition.
Make a Plan
Decide at the beginning of the year what events and causes you’ll support—and how you’ll support them. Writing a check is great; every community organization needs money. But think about what will best serve your brand. You’re great at making food and dealing with people. How can you use those talents to benefit both the community and your business?
In my career as a restaurant general manager, I focused on providing meals to charity kickoff meetings, community events, even to the media covering big events. I’d trade the value of the food and labor for a sponsorship, knowing that in addition to prominent placement of our logo we’d get a lot of great word of mouth. At events, I’d ask for a few minutes of time to talk about how happy we were to lend a hand to such a worthy cause.
You can deliver meals to parent/teacher conferences, host celebrity server nights, sponsor a hole in a charity golf tournament, offer free food to kids who get good grades… anything that gets the reaction of, “Wow! They didn’t have to do this.” The options are limited only by your imagination.
Be sure to contact organizations during your planning to confirm that they would welcome your help. Then make yourself (or one of your employees) available as a point person. If you’re new to these kinds of activities, start small. Do one or two things really well before taking on more.
Make a Connection
In 2014, the Chicago-based research firm Technomic Inc., asked consumers what causes they’d like to see supported by restaurants. Here are the results, in descending order:
- Fight hunger
- Help poor families
- Help children
- Provide short-term disaster relief
- Fight diseases
- Aid military veterans
- Support schools/education
These are all worthy causes, but focus on those to which you and your staff feel personally connected. It’ll increase commitment levels and make your staff feel good about working for you. Has your family been affected by a particular disease? Do multiple staffers coach in a sports league? What schools do employees’ children attend? When you discover a staff interest that resonates with your target market, you’ve hit pay dirt.
Make a Profit
Donations aren’t the only way to strengthen community ties. Schmidt’s Restaurant and Sausage Haus in Columbus, Ohio, takes traveling food kiosks to fairs and festivals throughout the state, making money while reinforcing its community-icon status. Cooking classes, wine-tasting dinners, and food trucks are other ways to profit while serving the community.
Make a Noise
The lobby says a lot about an operation. Do you display that photo of the Little League team you sponsor and the appreciation letter from the local Red Cross? These days, you can use social media as a virtual lobby. Highlight your corporate citizenship activities on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social-media sites. Just be sure to share your passion about the cause and be humble about your involvement. Anything you can do to deepen community ties and help improve the local quality of life will make area residents feel more positive about your restaurant. And you can build a lot of business on those favorable impressions.