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Restaurant Industry: Feeding More Than the Average Customer


A few months ago we posted about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the importance of understanding what your customers expect from your company. Many businesses have started CSR programs and popular areas of focus include reducing their carbon footprint, ensuring products are fair-trade or taking part in some sort of community engagement like volunteer work. A new movement by the restaurant industry, however, has taken CSR to a new level by offering immediate results to local citizens affected by hunger.

In 2009, Feeding America conducted the largest study ever on domestic hunger. The numbers are rising at an alarming rate: Nearly 37 million Americans – including 14 million children – are at risk of hunger. One in eight Americans are relying on local food banks for meals and groceries. At the same time, each year about 14 billion pounds of food are sent to landfills.

In 1996 President Clinton signed The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. This bill helped to create a uniform food donation law for the nation that would protect donors from civil and criminal liability. Charities trying to prevent hunger have partnered with restaurants of all sizes around the nation to help turn extra food into meals for those in need. As Darden (just one of many donors) explains: Each night, at the end of a dinner shift, our restaurants have leftover food that can’t be used – such as full trays of thawed chicken breasts or steak tips. (We even sometimes donate lobsters.) Our rigorous food safety guidelines won’t allow us to save food items like these for use on the following day. So instead, our kitchen crew cooks them just as they would for any paying guest, then packages and freezes them for weekly collections by the hunger-relief agencies.

To help encourage food donations, The National Restaurant Association partnered with the Food Donation Connection (FDC). FDC serves as the liaison between restaurants and social service agencies making the donation process as simple as possible. In addition to helping feed so many in need, food donations also help to reduce waste that will end up in our nation’s landfills.

Other restaurants, like Panera Bread, have created special cafes in impoverished cities where the idea is to “pay what you can.” Prices for menu items are not listed – there are only suggested donations. Customers can pay the full suggested price or even donate more. Customers can also pay only what they can afford or can get a free meal if they are unable to pay. After monitoring the program for a year, these “pay what you can” cafes are so successful that Panera plans to launch more locations in other cities around the country.

Similarly, celebrities such as Jon Bon Jovi are opening independent restaurants that are also based on the “pay what you can” method. Soul Kitchen, recently launched by Bon Jovi and his wife, serves three-course meals made with locally grown produce. Again, no prices are listed. Pay if you are able. If you are not able to donate, you may do volunteer work in exchange for your family’s meal.

The effort being made by these businesses is incredibly helpful in fighting domestic hunger and is immensely inspiring. As we noted in our earlier post on CSR, consumers pay attention. They appreciate when companies make a difference and want to feel like they are a part of that. CSR is not just for large companies and celebrities. Even taking small measures to make a difference can lead to increased customer loyalty and even bigger profits.

The Pert Group’s Farmington office recently participated in The Great American Bake Sale – an event to help raise money and awareness for the prevention of childhood hunger. What types of CSR is your company participating in? We’d love to hear about it!

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