When charities come calling

If your restaurant has any prestige, you will be called upon to contribute to charitable organizations by donating gift certificates for meals and/or hosting special charity events.Instead of hiding behind voice mail systems or tapped out budgets, consider it a compliment... and treat it like a necessary and integral part of your marketing program.

Rather than limiting the amount of gratis work and donations you can afford, consider participating in a way that allows you to make both a donation and a profit. Then prepare a flyer with all of the details, and when someone calls or comes by, have it on hand. Be sure to include:

The amount of your donation
Be up front about your costs and profits. This will eliminate many unreasonable requests. Promote the fact that you will donate 20% of the proceeds from the meal or reception to the charity or beneficiary. It's classier than a discount.

Types of events
Pick one or two types of fundraisers that are appropriate for your operation, and then market yourself as THE place to hold all events of this type in your community. Whether it's a team pizza party, sit-down dinner for fifty, cocktails and passed hors d'oeuvres for 100 guests or a coffee and dessert buffet, you'll have an idea what works best with your room set-up, available staffing, etc.

Price point
Give fund raisers some menu guidelines and options. Your chicken, pasta or vegetarian dinner selections may have a significantly lower food cost than your rack of lamb, rib eye, and salmon selections. Same with your appetizers and desserts. You might also want to have some special menu items available for large groups or events such as these that ensure you have a sufficient profit margin.

Time & place
Try to schedule events during off-peak times. Try pre-dinner cocktails (you'll probably get plenty who stay for dinner), after-event dessert service, or Monday night sports parties. You may also utilize a patio, garden or closed off dining room to accommodate special parties.

Other perks
Consider waiving corkage fees, room or administrative fees if possible as an added benefit to the charity. Offer to create a customized dessert. Ask a vendor who's wooing you for business to donate some product and give them credit in any marketing materials. Party favors are always a hit. Free samples of any retail products you may have would be fun.

Gift certificates
The gift certificate is the most commonly requested donation, so make it count. We recommend gift certificates that will generate business and a profit for you AND provide a value to the fundraiser. How about a free dinner with the purchase of a dinner, or gift certificate for a bottle of house wine with the purchase of two entrees.

All promotions like these make you money. Consider them part of your marketing expenditures. And be proactive. The sooner you define the guidelines and options, the sooner you'll be the toast and host of the town with a reputation as a business with a huge heart!

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