Everyone’s gotta eat! That’s the basic premise behind the Restaurant Fundraiser Nights. Think about it, the restaurant makes the food, does the dishes, has plenty of parking. All you have to do is get people there: a true turnkey opportunity. What could be easier?
But is it really worth it? How much money can you really raise? What’s the catch?
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The reality is that while it sounds easy, it’s still up to you to motivate a crowd to attend, and a big crowd if you want to make any real money. Moreover, not all Restaurant Nights are created equal. So, let’s break down three of your best options.
Mom & Pop
In general, I’m an advocate for supporting the local Mom & Pop restaurant. Shopping local is important on many levels, but that’s not the primary reason to put local family restaurant at the top of your list. Two reasons that you must consider first are "community building" and "local sponsorships".
Community Building: Team sports fundraising is largely about building a community of supporters. Holding a well orchestrated restaurant night lets the team interact with your supporters away from the playing field. When done properly (see future posts), you can make your supporters feel like they are an extended part of the team. A when a supporter feels they are part of something, they are much more likely to give and give big.
This same community building is also good for the restaurant. When a local business creates an image of community support, they increase frequency from their local customer base. So not only do these events directly help the team, they indirectly help the restaurant.
Sponsorships: Building a relationship with a restaurant can increase you're likelihood of selling sponsorship opportunities. Fence banners, program ads, and in-kind donations become part of the restaurant's local marketing strategy. Thus aligning with restaurants that service the correct demographics is pivotal to long term funding success. Select restaurants that service either team athletes (e.g. high school athletes) or parents of youth athletes. Not every restaurant will see benefit; instead, some will see holding a restaurant night AND buying sponsorships as double-dipping. It’s your job to educate the restaurant in the benefits of sports fundraising (one of the goals of this blog), or find another restaurant.
ROI: Most local restaurants will offer 15-20% of sales generated through your basic Fundraiser Night. Dedicated fundraiser parties (with volunteers, auctions, raffles, bands…) can raise even more, but they are a bigger burden on the restaurant and your boosters and team.
Many big chains offer fundraiser nights or similar fundraising opportunities; most in the 15-20% on sales range. For the reasons above, I'll always lean towards the Mom & Pop first. However, two big chains offer very compelling opportunities that must be consider and leveraged accordingly.
Chipotle’s Do Good With Burritos is about as turnkey as it gets. Simply (1) apply online, (2) wait for approval, (3) scheduled date and time window (up to 6 weeks), and then (4) promote via digital and paper flyers. For that, you’ll receive 50% of the sales. That’s not a typo – 50%!
- Extremely turnkey – absolutely no volunteering, no clean up, nothing to buy or prepare. Nothing!
- No minimums guest count.
- No maximums guest count.
- Food is on the healthy side.
- Drop-in window typically last many hours (e.g. 1pm - 7pm)
- Drop-in window also means you aren't building community of fans.
- No opportunity to extend the fundraising with raffles, sales, etc.
- No opportunity to build a long-term relationship with the restaurant.
- Must plan 6 weeks ahead of time.
If you are lucky enough to live in NY, NJ, GA or FL, then you may be close to a participating Applebee's to host a FlapJack Fundraiser (if not, this is such a great approach that you might contact any local lunch/dinner restuarant with the idea of duplicating it). Applebee’s Flapjack Fundraiser is also extremely turn-key, but requires more effort through selling tickets and volunteering during the event. See http://www.flapjackfunds.com for the details (which includes $100 deposit, 100 minimum attendees, approximately 20 volunteers needed...).
This fundraiser falls in the dedicated fundraiser party column (so it's not really an apples to apples comparison). Since Applebee’s is not normally open for breakfast, your group will be the sole patrons. This means you can have other fundraising opportunities, such as a raffle, t-shirt sales, etc. (check with your local restaurant manager).
This fundraiser works extremely well for high school teams if you athletes can make up the bulk of the volunteers (must be at least 16 years old). Imagine a football team and cheerleaders, wearing their uniforms, serving pancakes and sausage and engaging with the locals. Players engagement is very important. It builds a bond between the team and fans, which later helps with other fundraising asks (e.g. an online FanAngel campaigns). The more fans feel they are part of the team, the more they are willing to give back.
- Relatively Turnkey – Nothing to buy or cook. Location and parking are typically excellent.
- Great community building opportunity.
- Potential to extend fundraising with raffles, sales, etc.
- Healthy profits (~66%).
- Who doesn’t like pancakes!
- You must be able to mobilize at least 100 guests and no more than 300.
- Must plan 6 weeks ahead of time.
- Requires a healthy number of volunteers (not bad for High School teams, but not realistic for youth programs)
Your situations will obviously vary, but all three of these options can be used to raise respectable amounts of money. In the follow table is outlined a scenario where you were able to rally 200 patrons who all spent $12.
|ROI||200 at $12||Work||Thoughts|
|Mom & Pop||~20%||$480||Little||Perhaps best long term value with Sponrships + raffle/sales opportunities|
|Chipotle||50%||$1200||None||Most Turnkey, might be harder to rally 200|
|Applebee's||~66%||$1600||~20 Volunteers||Perhaps best Return, but substantial work.|