It seems like restaurants and charity events are a perfect match because these days, there always seems to be a chef presence at every fundraiser. Because hospitality professionals live (and work) by the Danny Meyer mantra of find a way to say yes, they tend to get hit up for donations and are asked to participate in charity events more than all other types of businesses combined. Participating in events and donating to charity can give your restaurant exposure to new audiences and foster good will, but it can also be a drain on resources. So how do you choose which charity events to align with and where to donate? We checked in with restaurateurs around the country to learn what works for them.
Do participate in charity events for the right reasons.
On the flipside, Dave Renzella, Partner, RMD Group which includes Rustic Root and Don Chido cautions, “Don’t do charity for the wrong reasons: to gain PR exposure or because you consider it something you ‘have to do.’ It’s always nice to gain exposure for your venue by getting involved in a charity, but that should be considered the icing on the cake. Above all, it’s important to stay focused on what’s truly important — and that’s the cause.”
Do choose a charity that relates to your business and your values.
Culinary manager Mary Goeldner who works closely with chef Daniel Boulud (whose many restaurants includes Café Boulud) mentions Citymeals on Wheels and says “The most important part of selecting a charity or participating in a charity event is making sure that charity or event is centrally important to your restaurant or your team.”
Gianfranco Sorrentino, owner of Il Gattopardo Group which includes Il Gattopardo in New York City focuses on the causes his restaurant group believes in, including cancer, children’s organizations, and Italian causes.
Do support local charities.
Jeff Shull, general manager of Cannon + Belle, says that since his restaurant prides itself on supporting local farms, distilleries, and breweries it’s only natural that they focus on charities and events that are based in their hometown of Austin and support their local community.
Renzella echoes his support for local saying, “We’re passionate about doing the most good for the people closest to us, literally and figuratively. That’s why we’re involved in local charities that support the San Diego service industry and the people that touch our lives every day — our co-workers, our neighbors, and our community.”
Jason Villafana at Cabo Wabo Cantina puts it this way: ”Restaurants by their nature are a part of the community, so it’s important to support the community that supports you.” Las Vegas is a military town, so much of their charitable work is tied to the military. They also support the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, which has an excellent hospitality program. He also notes, “Many of the people who are the backbone of the Las Vegas Strip are UNLV graduates.”
Do extend hospitality.
Pete Sittnick, Managing Partner at Waterbar & EPIC Steak, says, “Waterbar and EPIC recognize the importance of helping others to be successful because it aligns with our spirit of hospitality and doing things the ‘right way’.”
Renzella says, “When you’re passionate about giving back, always go the extra mile.”
Don’t be vague with gift certificates.
Often restaurants are asked to donate gift certificates. Dede Gotthelf, owner of Claude’s at the Southampton Inn cautions, “Be sure that all black outs, expirations, and valuations are clearly spelled out and don’t permit gift certificates to be used for alcoholic beverages, tips, taxes, or take out.”
Do make sure you know what’s expected of you.
Duke advises, “Make sure that the coordinator on the charity side has outlined tasks. While you want to help, everyone should know what their responsibilities are.”
Don’t overpromise and under deliver — or cheap out.
Villafana says “When you make a commitment to a non-profit, they make a commitment to you in time and resources. Don’t let them down.”
Sittnick adds, “Don’t do a charity event if you can’t commit to the number of people who are expected to attend. That is, don’t prepare 500 pieces for an event where 500 people are anticipated to be there. You will run out of food quickly and then either have to leave or look unprepared.”
Do your best.
Duke points out “This is a chance to put your best foot forward. A chance to show off your BEST food dishes, your BEST cocktails, your BEST staff.”
Sorrentino echoes this sentiment. He notes, “We take all of the crucial elements from the restaurant, and present them in the same upscale and stylish manner at charity events. Not only are we contributing to a good cause, we’re showcasing our restaurant, cuisine, and our image — and we’re extremely proud of that!”