The joy of giving

Chefs Cath Claringbold and Teage Ezard have been contributors in Streetsmart’s efforts to help the homeless in NSW and Victoria.

Chefs Cath Claringbold and Teage Ezard have been contributors in Streetsmart’s efforts to help the homeless in NSW and Victoria.

When you choose a cause to support, what exactly could you do that will benefit both the charity as well as your business? Sharon Aris reports.

There isn’t a café or restaurant in Australia that hasn’t been approached by a local school or club to throw in a free meal for fundraising. And restaurateurs are good community citizens. A 2003 survey of members of Restaurant and Catering state associations found on average respondents annually gave $4,471 in kind and $3,021 in cash to charities and local causes. But how to determine what cause is worth supporting? And can you tailor your involvement so that giving isn’t just a one-way street?

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005, Craig Macindoe, managing partner of the New Orleans Café, Sydney, knew he had to do something. Generally reserving his charity for local youth sports and schools—“In my position you get approached by so many people. It’s nothing to get five phone calls a day”—Macindoe makes an exception for New Orleans.

The question was, what exactly could they do? While he was approached to go big, to be part of a stadium or theatre benefit concert, Macindoe was cautious. “People in Australia perhaps aren’t as connected to the US as we are. I’d rather do small things and know we can send some money.” It was a wise decision—benefits are notorious for sometimes not even making costs.

So instead of one big event, the café set about doing a whole lot of little things. A ‘category five’ cocktail was put on the cocktail menu; the Mardi Gras beads they already imported were now tagged fundraisers; Hurricane Katrina t-shirts were printed for sale and if people requested water, waiters first offered them bottled water that too was earmarked as a fundraiser. Booked bands were asked to accept less money, the balance being paid to the hurricane fund, and at the local Crows Nest fair, instead of putting on food, they put up a stall selling the t-shirts and beads.

Macindoe says the benefits of doing all this cut both ways. “Life can’t be just about profit. But I’m also a firm believer that you have to keep changing your business to keep it interesting.”

The fundraising gave staff something to feel good about and to talk to the customers about. And as they have a client database, “it gave us something to send emails to people about”.

In four months they raised $5,000, which went to a school in the city. Collecting stopped as soon as the cyclone hit Queensland, when Macindoe knew people’s interest would turn there.

Grant Lewers, director of Restaurant Marketing, a company that specialises in creating personalised customer databases for restaurants, says that what the New Orleans Café did was smart. An expert in the subtler arts of marketing, Lewers says philanthropy and marketing can be a perfect match. “The two biggest challenges for restaurants is to get people in the door in the first place and then to get them to come back. If you’re a suburban restaurant, the only way to survive is repeat business.”

And, he says, one of the best ways to do this is make a virtue of your slow times. “Rather than spend $2,000 on an ad in the newspaper, pack out your restaurant for a charity event.” So, if Tuesday lunch is slow, “run a charity day where you invite local businesses to ‘come and have lunch on us so long as you make a donation to our favourite charity’”. Keep them coming back with prizes like giving the four highest donaters gift certificates to that value of their next meal. It is, he says, a win-win. Customers get a free meal and get to feel good. Your potential new regulars experience the place full and buzzy even if it’s a rainy winter day. And a charity gets the proceeds. “Most people don’t like having
to pay $80 to support a charity,” says Lewers. “But they don’t mind giving $10 or $20 for a free lunch. You can set a minimum.”

He adds, while some businesses will give 100 per cent of all money raised, if the event is advertised as ‘proceeds donated to …’, some costs, like food, can be taken out. The big charities have information on this on their websites. Lewers has other simple ideas too: if breakfast is slow, or you’ve got a new coffee supplier, drop off coffee cups to local businesses and say ‘bring this in, make a donation
to ‘X’ charity and coffee’s on us’. “Then people will go ‘wow, this coffee’s really good’ and they’ll be back.”

A case study on doing a benefit right was the Tsunami relief night put on by the Heritage Belgian Beer Café, Sydney, in July 2005. Moved by the images of the Boxing Day tsunami, owner Olivier Massart decided to do something.

With the Lions Club handling the finance to ensure there could be no question that the profits would go to the beneficiary, an orphanage in Tamil Nadu, India, Massart knocked on doors 10 to 15 hours a week for three months. He researched the right crowd, emailing existing clientele and advertising through the restaurant and word of mouth. Friends were tapped to donate prizes for a charity auction like the use of a Ferrari for a day. Rugby legends and celebrities agreed to play host. Live bands performed for free. A professional auctioneer conducted the auction, again gratis.

On the night, with food and drinks on the house and staff donating their time, 350 people showed up for dinner and another 200–300 were at the bar for the auction. It raised $20,000.

But charity doesn’t just have to be about direct fundraising. Restaurateur Dur-e Dara, past president of Restaurant and Catering Victoria and Melbourne vice president of Philanthropy Australia, chooses to do her philanthropy a little differently.

“Philanthropy is in the doing as well as the giving,” she says. “The average restaurateur is overburdened with legislation, GST, taxation. If everything is just to do with money, you can feel bogged down in work, like nothing matters.” So while she does set aside a small fund for charity work, “the rest of the time I give time”, adding that charity begins at home. “Do something for the people who work for you. I’d much rather give my employee, who is a father, a day off a month to do something in the community with his son and daughter.”

And she gets involved with her industry too. “Talk with your colleagues and exchange ideas—two or three can start a movement. That also replenishes you. I enhance my life by being involved in projects and programs.” ν

For pointers on choosing a charity go to www.philanthropy.org.au/involved/charities.htm

To check if a charity has deductible gift recipient status look it up at www.abr.gov.au 

Streetsmart is a Victorian and NSW program that helps the homeless. In the six weeks before Christmas, diners at over 100 participating restaurants are given the opportunity to make a donation at the end of their meal, with the money going to local causes. For more information go to  www.streetsmartaustralia.org

This great content is produced for members of the Restaurant & Catering Association. Find out about becoming a member here.

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