Restaurants can benefit from participating in supplemental feeding programs

Community meals
Participating in community feeding programs can benefit restaurants and the greater good, RB's Advice Guy says. | Photo: Shutterstock.


Dear Advice Guy,

I was recently asked to make [kosher] meals for a summer feeding program as a supplement to my usual business. But I don’t know if I can do it on the few dollars per meal that they allow. It’s government funded, so non-negotiable. Is there a way to make this work?

– Owner


As, unfortunately, the need for supplemental food for people experiencing food insecurity increases, more municipalities and government agencies are looking to fill the gap by funding not only the usual community-based soup kitchens and food pantries, but also restaurants to make affordable meals.  

The advantages for agencies in working with restaurants are numerous: high food-safety and sanitation standards, culturally relevant community-based food offerings, expertise in doing volume production, and the multiplier that comes from supporting local small businesses.

I recently moderated a panel based on some similar work that is happening in New York City. ReThink Food has a contract with the city to buy $5 meals from local restaurants to feed the community. Founder and CEO Matt Jozwiak says, “At Rethink Food, we firmly believe in the effectiveness of engaging local restaurants and food businesses, and utilizing their existing infrastructure to deliver meals to communities in need. As part of the Rethink Certified program, we continue to empower small local restaurants and food businesses to be at the heart of the solution in their neighborhoods. Since our founding in 2017, we've partnered with over 140 small, local restaurants and food businesses to provide over 24 million nutritious, high-quality, culturally celebrated meals for communities impacted by food insecurity. By creating better connections across the food system, we’re empowering change to increase equitable food access for our most-vulnerable neighbors and, ultimately, create a more sustainable and equitable food system.”

The advantages to restaurants for making these discounted meals are also numerous: opportunities to use excess product and reduce waste (though all food should be still of the safety and quality standards that you stand by), opportunities to fill down-time with production, to keep staff who are seeking more hours employed and engaged, and to be creative and pilot new culinary ideas in a lower-risk environment.

Ali Ahmed, owner of Brain Food in Brooklyn has been participating in ReThink’s program and says,  “As a small-business owner operating within underserved communities recognized as food desserts, providing a discount allows our community to be included. A discounted healthy meal educates, employs, nurtures and grows our community creating a micro-economy with the best values.”

That said, before embarking on a program like this, be sure you have the food supply, staffing, storage and transportation to support it. While you may not be able to receive additional funding per meal, ask about food donations or USDA commodities that could be incorporated in these meals to offset costs. The new Food Donation Improvement Act makes it easier to engage with these opportunities.

More on community-based food programs here.