The goal of a community outreach program for a restaurant is to engage with some part group of people in your neighborhood or city. Usually this outreach includes an educational or mentorship component, helps raise funds for a worthy cause, or is designed to make the area you life and work in a little bit better. One simple example of community outreach for a pizza shop would be delivering free pies to frontline healthcare workers as a gesture of appreciation for the work they do. While there’s no direct financial return for the generosity of the pizza owner, the act may could result in press coverage and patronage of the hospital staff in the future.

Simple gestures like these can bring people together around a common goal and be remembered by community members for years to come. Of course only one example of a restaurant reaching out to the community they serve.

While you shouldn’t expect something get something back each time you give, it does seem to work out that way a lot. According to the Non Profits Source, 90% of corporate giving showed working with nonprofit organizations boosted their business. This is a win-win situation wherein you’re helping others and enhancing your brand at the same time.

Outreach programs are more common than you might think in the food industry. One example of a company that focuses almost exclusively on advocacy partnerships through is Kona Ice. Kona’s main marketing strategy is to connect with local groups like youth athletic clubs and charities that need to fundraise. Kona Ice trucks show up at these community events and do a revenue share with different groups to help them raise money for things like new soccer uniforms or a charitable cause.

If you’re wondering how this marketing approach could work for your restaurant, here are the nine most practical community outreach ideas.

Offer Discounts

Offer rewards to your dream customers.

Discounts are a way to attract customers. But coupons don’t need to be the tired cattle calls available to anyone with a pulse. You can use these coupons strategically to attract the exact type of customer you want to support. According to INC, four out of five shoppers claim that they’ll make a purchase for the first time on brands that are new to them if the brands offered a discount. This makes first-time customers more eager to check out your restaurant if there’s a compelling reason like a discount.

Related Reading: 11 Best (No Cost) Restaurant Marketing Ideas

But since we’re talking about giving back to the community, you can use this marketing strategy by giving discounts to every day hero’s like veterans, military, healthcare workers, and teachers. Offering a special discount for people who hold these professions make them feel like invited to your establishment and appreciated.

But you don’t need to limit these discounts by profession. You can offer discounts based on your own personal interests or passions too. For example, you could extend free coffee to bicyclists or motorcyclists if those are the people you want to serve.

Charities

Partner up with charities.

Another option is partnering with a charity or a non-profit organization to market your food business. For instance, whenever a charity hosts a fundraising event, you could be the official caterer. You could also create lower cost menu to serve at zero hunger programs. Another idea is to assemble food gift boxes that could be consumed by the homeless community in your city. Your restaurant name will be remembered for your good deeds by volunteers, employees of the non-profit, and of course the individuals you’re helping out.

It’s also ideal if you partner up with charities that are under the same target market as yours. For example, if your target market is aimed at senior citizens that directly benefits this age group. Remember, everyone has a grandmother so extended families will also appreciate the work you do.

Open Your Restaurant to Meetup Groups

Offer your spot for free.

Another way to extend reach in the community and market your business at the same time is to offer your restaurant as a meeting place at no extra cost. You can invite clubs to host their monthly meetings at your cafe or have their small event held at your restaurant. This is an opportunity to demonstrate support for their cause while giving more people to opportunity to discover your restaurant.

If you’re not familiar with any clubs that require a meeting area, check out Meetup.com. This is a national website where small groups of like-minded people go to organize their meetings. You can find small groups of people interested in everything from cooking to Science fiction in your hometown.

While the meeting space can be offered free to guests, revenue will come from the food and drink sales during the meeting. It’s okay to make it clear to the spokesperson of meetup group that you expect guests to make a purchase in exchange for a comfortable meeting place.

Cooking Classes

Host cooking classes.

Extend a hand by offering cooking classes at your local community. Teaching a class allows you to build a network, mentor others, and market your food business at the same time. Best of all, you could even host these classes online using Zoom or YouTube Live. This would give local residents the opportunity to learn from you. You can even pitch viewers on your delivery options during the program.

If you want to reach a larger audience, feature local chefs in your area. You can partner up with them or have them as a guest on your show. Do a theme during the different seasons by featuring dishes they can do for the summer or winter. Another option is doing a show that highlights seasonal food that can be purchased from farmers markets in your area. These small ideas will be appealing to a wide range of people in your community.

Don’t forget you actually don’t need to teach a cooking class, although that would make sense. As a restaurant owner, you could teach other people how to start a small business, hiring employees, or managing people. As a small business owner yourself, you’ve got a broad skillset people want to learn.

Use Social Media

Make use of social media.

You can use your restaurants social media to account to help raise awareness for social justice issues in your community. Video, photo, or text content can all be broadcast to tell the story of your community. If you’re helping stock shelves at a food bank, serving meals to less fortunate, or working to raise money to end child hunger, you’ll have a bigger impact if you share the journey with others on social media.

As mentioned previously, one of these features on Facebook is the live broadcast option. There have been more than 3.5 billion broadcasts on Facebook since it was launched in 2016 and over 2 billion people watching a Facebook Live broadcast. Instagram is another place to stream a live broadcast. In the U.S., Instagram saw a 70% increase in live streaming on March 2020 and we expect this trend to stick in coming years.

Related Reading: Cooking is My Passion. Should I Start a Restaurant?

Using these broadcast features, you can do more than just cooking shows. You can offer food preparation tips, host a restaurant or kitchen tour, teach someone how to cut properly using a chef’s knife, or conduct an ask me anything (AMA) event. Anyone watching on social media will have a much deeper connection with you than restaurant owners in your city. This is the fast track to celebrity chef status in your backyard.

Send Out Mail

Send out mail.

Print advertising might be even more effective in this digital age. How? Sending out flyers or mail captures your reader’s attention much longer than an email or status update ever could.

But keep in mind the content you include in these mailers is extremely important when being used for community outreach. You’re not sending a mailer plastered with weekly specials like the competition is doing. Instead, you’ll be talking about the work you’re doing for the betterment of your local community. Maybe you’re doing a fundraiser for a nearby children’s hospital or helping raise money for the fire department. Call out and drive awareness to these events instead and discuss why they are so important to community members.

While the main marketing message should spotlight the cause, remember to include details such as address, phone number, store hours so prospective customers know where to find you.

Takeover Another Kitchen

Work at another kitchen

You read that right. It’s nice to have a change of scenery and cook in a different restaurant’s kitchen. This way, you can meet other friendly faces and get in front of a new set of customers. Make this a friendly agreement between you and the kitchen you’re taking over. Likewise, you can also feature a local celebrity chef by having them cook in your own restaurant too. Think of it as a friendly swap.

Doing a kitchen swap builds community among the local industry. This gives you the opportunity to become close with another owner and the staff. You may still be vying for the same group of customers, but this is a healthy form of competition that creates a rising tide for all boats.

Create Theme Nights

Do theme nights like pizza night and burger night.

Host theme nights in your restaurant. Theme nights can include burger night, pizza night, cocktail night, unlimited wings night, and so on. These themed nights allow you to gauge your customer’s interest on a certain food item to help you know which ones could be permanent menu items.

Our very own Malcolm Bedell does exceptional job executing theme nights for his restaurant Ancho Honey. Malcolm started testing theme nights at his restaurant in an effort increase sales during slow Thursday nights. After kicking off a burger night each Thursday and he started seeing more than $1,000 in sales. This was a huge turnaround from a day that was previously unprofitable. Since the initial success Malcolm expanded into chicken sandwich Sundays too. This approach could work wonders for your restaurant as well.

Support a youth soccer team.

Sponsoring a youth sports team can bring your restaurant more attention and at the same time help out the kids in your community. One research study has said that children 10 to 11 years of age recall and buy the products of their sports club sponsors when they buy food or beverages. So if you sponsor a youth sports team, chances are high that these kids will remember you and bring in their friends and family to your restaurant.

Related Reading: Menu & Recipe Cost Template: Download Free Spreadsheet

Being able to sponsor a youth sports team also raises the morale of these kids. For some families, buying a uniform is a financial hardship. You can help level the playing field for these kids by joining fundraisers like this. If you’d like to get involved in this opportunity, contact your local schools or coaches. These people will be able to connect you with the best opportunities.

Giving back and helping out charities, non-profit organizations, or your local community can widen your business’s awareness in the community. You can get started small and work your way up to bigger events. You’ll also develop relationships you might not have ever had without taking this step.

Participating in outreach projects also increases fulfillment among your staff. Their daily jobs have a higher purpose than simply helping to run a restaurant. Their work makes a difference in the community.

Which one of these outreach ideas caught your attention? Do you have any more suggestions? Let us know!

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Hey! 👋I’m Brett Lindenberg, the founder of Food Truck Empire.

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