Restaurant Cause Marketing: How to Engage with Millennials Through Altruism
In years past, consumers expected their favorite restaurants to have great food and exceptional customer service. Today, that’s not enough. Consumers — especially millennial diners with their swell of purchasing power — look for restaurant branding that tells them about our values. What causes do we support? And, where do we stand on social, and YIKES, even political issues? This added expectation, one driven by a new generation of diners who open their wallets to socially responsible businesses, is one that shouldn’t be overlooked. Match values to theirs and we’ve made a connection that can pay off royally – in loyalty and word of mouth. This is where restaurant cause marketing can help.
A 2015 Nielsen report showed that 66 percent of consumers would spend more with companies that are committed to making positive social impacts. This trend toward a socially-conscious demands gets even more interesting when we look at the 2015 Cone Communications study. In that report, 91 percent of millennials said they’d change their buying decisions to support a brand that rallied behind a cause. Not only does this generation support brands that are socially-conscious, they tweet, post, snap, and chat about them with friends and family.
Who is the Socially-Conscious Consumer?
From these two previously cited surveys, we know that the majority of socially-conscious consumers are under the age of 40. Great, because that’s the group likely to spend the most at our restaurants and become frequent diners. Of this group, the causes that matter most will vary, but topping the list is concern for a clean environment and reducing corporate environmental impact.
That’s good news for operators looking to enhance their restaurant branding strategy, because food-related businesses can align with that value more easily than societal issues like reducing teen pregnancy, criminal justice reform, or women in STEM fields. Everything we do in the food industry impacts the environment: reducing food waste, paper waste, and even water consumption. Therefore, we have a vast landscape upon which to build a program. First order of business is to reach deep within our organization to find beliefs and values that mesh with those of our diners.
Keep in mind that since 2012, three causes have risen to the surface within the minds of millennials:
- Ensuring environmental sustainability
- Improving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) training
- Eliminating extreme poverty and hunger
Attracting Socially-Conscious Consumers
When we choose restaurant cause marketing programs to attract the socially responsible consumers, we are also to shape our restaurant branding. For those efforts to be effective, we must spend time ensuring that this alignment of our values with those of our consumers are a good match for the brand. Do it right and we bring in new customers while gaining a new sense of loyalty from current customers. Get it wrong, and things fall flat or possibly worse. Paramount in this effort is doing so in an authentic and engaging way.
Three Restaurant Cause Marketing Efforts for Your Branding Strategy
The largest component of waste in landfills is food. Unfortunately, rotting food emits loads of methane, a gas 20 times more toxic than CO2. Socially-conscious people not only recognize food waste as a moral and economic problem but also an environmental problem. Food waste occurs in a variety of ways: excess and unsold food; as well as blemished foods and close-dated perishables. As a result, massive quantities of food and food scraps are tossed daily throughout the country. Here are a few restaurant branding ideas that you to show can use, which have a direct impact on the environment and give back to society in the process.
Redirect Food Loss
Many consumers report concern over how restaurant food waste is handled. In a Unilever study, roughly 72 percent of U.S. diners said they are concerned, while another 47 percent say they would even pay more money to eat at establishments that actively try to curtail food waste. Restaurants that want to get behind the effort to redirect food loss have three ways to combat the problem:
- Donate to food organizations that feed the hungry (assuming this is permissible in your state or community)
- Explore ways to feed animals from food waste
- Pursue composting alternatives and provide the resulting mulch to the community
Creative restaurants that develop clever ways to use food scraps that are typically destined for the dumpster, will win strong applause from customers who value an eco-friendly environment. Look for ways to repurpose pulp from juice or use imperfect fruit and vegetables. The final hurdle is finding the best way to promote those efforts.
Partner with a Non-Profit
Don’t envision having enough time to launch a full-scale program? Then research ways to partner with a non-profit already involved in a social cause that aligns with your values and support that effort in a big way. By supporting an organization’s cause, versus leading the charge on a specific social issue, we can give back to society with minimal effort while distancing our business from any direct negative impact from missteps in the promotion process. Here are just a few organizations to explore and to research how their missions might make for good value alignment:
Society of Saint Andrew— a faith-based organization that salvages fresh produce with three programs:
- The Gleaning Network — salvages food for the needy by coordinating volunteers, farmers and distribution agencies
- Harvest of Hope — encourages and educates people about domestic and global hunger, obtaining commitments to be part of the solution
- The Potato & Produce Project — redirects fresh, nutritious produce to soup kitchens, food banks and pantries, and other hunger agencies working to help those in need
Amp Your Good— a crowd-feeding movement that is changing food drives by allowing food groups to collect unused produce versus simply canned food or nonperishable food items.
Other food rescue organizations exist throughout the country, but many of those are state and community specific. A few of those include: Boulder Food Rescue, Boston Area Gleaners, 412 Food Rescue and City Harvest.
Set Up Ways to Donate Food Legally
Food safety is a big concern for restaurants and city health departments. Previously restaurants have been worried about donating leftover food and it’s possible legal ramifications. However, The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996 reduced potential donor liability when they give food in good faith. This legislation’s hope: To encourage donations of food and grocery products to nonprofit organizations that distribute food to needy individuals. The Act protects donors from civil and criminal liability should the recipient later become ill. They can still take legal action under gross negligence, but if donated responsibly, these concerns are minimal. Unfortunately, this Act is an underutilized tool by restaurants.
The risks of cause marketing in your restaurant cause marketing efforts are small compared to the enormous rewards in connecting your business values with those of our consumers. We all benefit as a society by giving back, and customers will reward us for our efforts.
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About the Author
Amber Mullaney provides and guides all things marketing for QSR. A proud Texan native, she graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in Public Relations and spent her career in the healthcare industry before making the switch to QSR, saying she loves a good challenge. Amber has a long list of things she loves, including tacos (especially tacos), sweet tea, Texas, the outdoors, and traveling with her husband and two daughters.