Why Give a S*!$?
By Ryan Turner
How many donation requests do you receive each year? For us, it is deep into the hundreds between our two restaurants. Why do you give? Is it because you want to give back, to get someone to stop annoying you, help out a good customer, good PR or for guilt mitigation?
Frankly, it can be and has been all of the above for us. Having been very active on the non-profit fund-raising side of the world before opening Muss & Turner’s, I am fascinated by the connection between the .org community, discretionary income and restaurants. There is no lack of good causes in our community, and it is amazing how many fund-raising efforts are hinged upon or tied to food and beverage elements.
We are approached by every possible organization you can imagine and receive hundreds of requests for donations, event participation and sponsorships. At one point a few years ago, these requests became a real threat to my time and level of engagement in this business and left me with a feeling of serious annoyance versus realizing the desire to give back with pure intentions.
I wish someone would do a study to measure how many billions of dollars the restaurant directly and indirectly raises for the non-profit sector each year. Think about that for a minute. It has to be astronomical, and the food and beverage industry should be very proud.
The reasons restaurants are approached vary. First, we are open to the public and very approachable. Not many folks are willing to cold call a random local business or hit up their entire social network beyond a pitch on Facebook.
Someone sending an e-mail to a local restaurant they have a relationship with is relatively easy, especially if that someone feels they can leverage their patronage as a reason to give to their cause. There is typically no ill will intended, but that sense of entitlement is tricky to handle. Whatever cause they are connected to is important to them, and they have no idea how many requests we receive each year, nor should they. Saying no is often saying no to them personally. Careful.
Second, people also just love food, wine and chefs. Nonprofits figured out long ago that folks with discretionary money would rather give in exchange for something, albeit a discount on a trip, a gift card or an experience that can’t be bought on the open market very easily, like an in-home chef dinner for eight.
We participate in a lot of events each year, and it is concerning in this economy to hear how frustrated my peers have become with the now higher level of expectation and demand to give more to fund-raising efforts.
Restaurateurs should give back to their community, as it is the right thing to do. The challenge is how to manage so many requests along with everything else, participate with better ROI and say no without offending our loyal guests.
How We Give Back
We created a system a couple of years ago that we rarely veer off, and this past year we decided to become more focused with our efforts, time and money and selected one organization with which to partner: the Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB). Beyond being an amazing organization run by very passionate people, it makes sense to us to help those who need food since we make our living off of fortunate folks who most likely never encounter real hunger. This partnership has made it easier and more purposeful to say no to many of the requests, especially if they are coming from people or organizations we don’t know well.
We donate food to the ACFB weekly, recently hosted one of their Supper Clubs and did a Simple Abundance cooking class at Cook’s Warehouse. As we moved into colder weather over the winter, we involved staff in volunteering to satisfy distribution assistance. It’s great team building with the bonus of being beneficial to the community in which we live and work.
The opportunities for us to impact the bottom line of hunger through the ACFB is extraordinary.
This in no way means we stop there and deny the hundreds of requests we receive in both restaurants. We created a questionnaire form to facilitate the process. Our intent is to remain approachable, responsive and bring value if we see fit.
This form puts everyone on an even playing field, sets expectations and eliminates those with not-so-pure intentions. Someone internally facilitates this process and once per week sends all the requests to the partners to weigh in, discuss and debate. From there we communicate status or details. If someone takes the time to formally request a donation, we feel they deserve an answer either way. The accountability extends to the redemption of the donation as well, with a checks and balances system for the guest making the reservation and then coming into one or the other restaurant.
If you choose to not even acknowledge a request, what signal does that send your guests and the community? How you handle these requests communicates your intentions in a major way, like it or not. This is PR in its most authentic form.
How We Raise Money and Increase ROI
The goal is for the nonprofit to make as much money as possible, and typically this involves using your restaurant or chef as the proverbial worm on the hook in a silent or live auction.
Most people making requests are looking for gift cards, because it is perceived as easy and quick, which it is. Why would you give money away quickly and easily? Do you think people with discretionary money who attend charity events really seek out discount gift cards, or are they seeking out an experience or something of novelty they can’t get on their own?
Do these same people dine out? Wouldn’t it be better if you could make contact with them to know when they are coming in to say hello, thank them for their generosity and ensure they have a blow-away dining experience?
We very rarely offer a gift card. What makes more sense to us is a private wine tasting for a group; dinner for two; a chef ’s table experience, an in-house chef dinner or a cooking class. Something unique that allows for pure engagement in what we are doing with the people we want to reach. All donations need to be booked through us, and our team knows what is going on. Yes, it may involve more time, but is there better time spent than having a chance to connect and naturally sell your restaurant to people who have never been there before?
The bottom line: We fully believe in giving back and encourage our industry peers to never stop being such a major force in fund raising for those in need. Managing the requests and fulfillment
of them is time-consuming and costs money, but if you take the time to get clear on what truly matters to you and if you handle these requests the right way, there is not a more effective way to grow deeper roots in your community.
Ryan Turner is the co-owner of Local Three in Buckhead and Muss & Turner’s in Smyrna.