Share Our Strength is celebrating the fifth anniversary of its Dine Out For No Kid Hungry program in 2012.
Last year 5,560 restaurants raised in excess of $2.2 million for the program — a figure the hunger organization hopes to beat during this year’s event, which takes place Sept. 16-22.
In 2011, fifty-seven multi-unit chains and their operators employed various combinations of bounce-back coupons, menu promotions, guest donations, matching funds, social media, employee contests and merchandise sales to support the campaign to end childhood hunger in the United States by 2015.
The money raised allowed Share Our Strength to invest in 18 state and city partnerships, as well as community organizations in all 50 states that help connect hungry children with programs that provide food. For example, funds helped to serve nearly 1 million additional summer meals in six states.
In addition to helping to feed hungry children, the program offers benefits to restaurateurs in the form of increased traffic and sales, and a boost in employee morale.
Nation’s Restaurant News caught up with two returning brands — Corner Bakery Café and 2011’s leading fundraiser Joe’s Crab Shack — and spoke with them about the importance of the program, how their involvement affects business operations and what they have in store for 2012.
Joe’s Crab Shack
The Houston-based casual-dining chain, which is owned by Ignite Restaurant Group, has been involved with Dine Out since its inception in 2008 when it was called the Great American Dine Out. Over the years, Joe’s has gone from contributing a percentage of sales to developing an aggressive marketing and promotion strategy, driving it to become the program’s leading fundraiser in 2011, when it raised $783,000 in September.
“We wanted to show a business reason that would also help drive donations,” said Robin Ahearn, senior vice president of marketing of the 118-unit Joe’s Crab Shack, and chair of the marketing advisory board for Dine Out. “That’s how we developed the bounce-back program, and we’ve seen a lot of positive response.”
In 2011 the brand — whose promotions extended beyond the week of Dine Out to the entire month of September — presented customers who made a $1 donation with a certificate for a free order of key lime pie. Those that made a $5 donation received a certificate for a free order of crab nachos, and guests that donated $10 were given a certificate for a free Original Steampot. The certificates were valid only with the purchase of an entrée and were redeemable for three months after the promotions ended.
“The customer is purchasing something that is creating a value,” Ahearn said. “And it is driving a return visit.”
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Joe’s Crab Shack marketed the promotion through a vertical approach, she said, which included extensive digital and social media advertising, 125 local community events and in-restaurant marketing. However, the awareness and success largely was driven by the involvement of the restaurant’s employees, Ahearn added.
“This is the biggest employee engagement we’ve ever seen,” she said. “From organizing events to just asking to get involved, we have seen amazing movement from our employees.”
And while she didn’t share numbers, Ahearn said the brand did see an uptick in traffic and sales during September last year.
For 2012, Joe’s will feature similar promotions to what was offered in 2011, as well as make a continued effort to promote and contribute to Dine Out and Share Our Strength year-round. In 2011 Joe’s, which is a No Kid Hungry partner, was able to donate an additional $50,000 raised through new restaurant openings throughout the year. The chain also continues to donate 10 percent of monthly sales of its co-branded “No Kid Hungry, No Kid Crabby” T-shirts.
“This program is an extension of who we are as a leadership team,” Ahearn said. “As we open more restaurants, we look forwarded to be involved with Dine Out year round.”
Corner Bakery Café
Dallas-based Corner Bakery Café also has been involved with Share Our Strength and Dine out since 2008, and in 2011 the 120-unit chain reached its highest donation to date, raising nearly $270,000.
The brand employed a multi-tiered approach that included guest donations, in-café promotions, online promotions and social media engagement, said Diana Hovey, senior vice president of marketing at Corner Bakery.
Customers were encouraged to donate $1 to Share Our Strength, and in return they received a guest voucher for a free whoopie pie or cookie on their next visit. For donations of $5 or more, guests received a booklet of vouchers worth more than $30 to be used on future visits or items such as a cup of soup, coffee or kids’ meals.
The offer ran from Sept. 1 to Sept. 24 and resulted in a noticeable increase in traffic, Hovey said.
“The in-store support we saw was amazing,” she said. “There were very strong traffic lifts during September.” The company said it saw a 47-percent redemption rate of the whoopie pie vouchers that were distributed in 2011, which was a major driver of the increased traffic.
In addition, Corner Bakery Café drove awareness with in-store advertisements, online promotions such as newsletters, and engagement with their nearly 50,000 Facebook fans and over 4,000 followers on Twitter.
“It’s a comprehensive platform,” Hovey said, referring to the company’s marketing strategy for Share Our Strength. “We start months ahead to create a custom marketing plan.”
Hovey said that planning was under way for 2012’s campaign, but she did not disclose exactly what that company had in store. She did, however, note that expectations are high that this would be the brand’s most successful fund-raising year.
“We except to raise well over $300,000 in the month of September this year,” she said.
Contact Charlie Duerr at email@example.com.